Katina Lillios

Katina Lillios
Associate Professor
PhD, Yale University, 1991
127B Macbride Hall; Lab: 127 Macbride Hall
319-335-3023 or 319-335-0109
Curriculum Vitae: 

Research and Teaching Interests
Archaeology of complex societies, Memory and identity, Anthropology of death, Identity and social difference, Material culture, Museums, Politics of the past, Geoarchaeology; Iberian Peninsula, Europe

General Statement
I am an anthropological archaeologist interested in the ways people used (and use) material culture, the remains of the dead, and monuments to create, enhance, and challenge sociopolitical difference and inequality. I am intrigued by the ways that social phenomena and cultural values come to be materialized, and how their materiality triggers social action. For me, archaeology is also the study of how the past (or how we imagine that past) intersects with contemporary life, so I also enjoy projects that examine how, when, and why the past gets enlisted for social, political, or economic purposes. I welcome opportunities to work with students on research related to these questions.

My research has concentrated on the histories of the people who lived in Portugal and Spain from the Neolithic through the Bronze Age (4000-1000 BC), a dynamic period characterized by episodes of political centralization and devolution. In this research, I bring together a concern for memory and object biographies with insights gained through geochemistry, geographic information systems, and bioarchaeology to understand the ways that people of the past used objects and monuments of their own past, such as heirlooms and ancestral burials, to shape their futures.

Click here if you would like to read more of my work.

I have also published four books:

Katina T. Lillios and Vasilis Tsamis, editors. 2011. Material Mnemonics: Everyday Memory in Prehistoric Europe (Oxbow).

Katina T. Lillios, editor. 2010. Comparative Archaeologies: The American Southwest (AD 900-1600) and the Iberian Peninsula (3000-1500 BC) (Oxbow).

Katina T. Lillios. 2008. Heraldry for the Dead: Memory, Identity, and the Engraved Stone Plaques of Neolithic Iberia (University of Texas Press).

Katina T. Lillios, editor. 1995. The Origins of Complex Societies in Late Prehistoric Iberia (International Monographs in Prehistory).


Current Research
I am currently involved in 4 research projects:

1. Assessing the Role of Ecological Change on Economic and Demographic Transformations Between the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in the Sizandro River Valley, Portugal. This is a 3-year project, funded by the National Science Foundation (2012-2015), to determine what caused the collapse of complex societies around 2200 BC in the Sizandro River valley, west-central Portugal. I work with Joe Alan Artz (Co-PI, geoarchaeology/GIS), Anna Waterman (biological anthropology, former graduate student at UI and currently on the faculty at Mount Mercy University), and a host of other scholars and students in the US and Europe.

This project brings specialists from archaeology, biological anthropology, and geoarchaeology to study the economic and demographic changes experienced by the ancient communities of the Sizandro River valley. During the Late Neolithic, the Sizandro valley was home to a thriving population, who lived in large fortified settlements and buried their dead in collective tombs. Trade goods that originated in the Portuguese interior and as far away as North Africa have been found in Late Neolithic sites along the Sizandro. During the Early Bronze Age (2200-1500 BC), many settlements were abandoned, and long-distance trade declined. During this same time, the sheltered estuary at the mouth of the Sizandro shrank as sea level fell, accelerated by hillslope erosion attributed to intensive Late Neolithic agriculture. Loss of the estuary might have cut the valley off from maritime trade, and silting of the river might have impeded trade with the interior. Estuarine resources dwindled and disappeared, and riverine ecosystems were transformed. However, the causal relationship between these ecological changes and the abandonments and collapse has never been tested.

In order to evaluate the relationship between ecological change and social collapse in the Sizandro Valley and, ultimately, understanding of the regional transformations that occurred in Portugal, my team will study mobility, diet, and settlement patterns. Specialists will analyze human skeletal remains and their bone chemistry from sites dated to prior to and post collapse. We have also conducted four seasons of excavation at the Late Neolithic-Early Bronze Age burial of Bolores to recover osteological remains with high quality contextual information. To assess changes in settlement pattern and their economic significance, team members will carry out two seasons of survey. Sites will be mapped, tested, and dated to more precisely characterize the changes in settlement pattern between the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. The Sizandro River Valley Project will contribute to a better understanding of the history of complex societies, including their collapse, by providing a detailed case study of one such collapse. It will also broaden the range of social and ecological contexts within which collapse has been studied.

2. Disciplining Bodies, Disciplining Objects: Museum Guards and the Early History of National Museums. In this project, I have been exploring the role of museum guards in shaping the history of archaeology and ethnography. I am broadly concerned with the process by which the remains of the ancient past were transformed from curiosities in the cabinets of European aristocracy, scholars, and clergy to objects of public education housed in the national museums. Since museum guards are charged with mediating public behavior toward museum objects, I suggest that they occupy an important position between official state bureaucracies, the public, and the treasured remains of a nation’s past. I have recently published an article in Museum Anthropology that explores, through documentary records, the relationship between museum guards and the early history of the Museu Etnológico Português, and I plan to expand this study to additional museums in the future.

3. The Engraved Stone Plaques of Neolithic Iberia. I continue work on the engraved stone plaques of Neolithic Portugal and Spain. For this research, I produced ESPRIT (the Engraved Stone Plaques Registry and Inquiry Tool), an on-line catalogue that illustrates and describes the 1300+ plaques discovered in burial sites through southwest Iberia. I update the database when new information on plaques becomes available. Based on formal and spatial patterning among the plaques, I argue they recorded the social affiliation and genealogy of a special class of the dead and can be considered a form of writing.

Because the biographies of the engraved plaques are ongoing, I am doing research that explores their diverse practices and uses in contemporary Portuguese and Spanish society. These seem to take 5 forms (which are not necessarily mutually exclusive): 1) inspirations for creative art, 2) a means to promote, within an educational framework, a physical engagement with the past, 3) a source of spiritual reflection, 4) a source of income, and 5) an expression of identity (local, national, etc.).

4. Groundstone Tools and the Political Economy of Late Neolithic Iberia. I continue research on the ways that groundstone tools made of local and non-local raw materials were used and trafficked through southwestern Iberia during the Late Neolithic. With graduate students from the University of Iowa, we are analyzing how these tools shaped social, political and economic life during this dynamic period of prehistory.

Courses Taught: 

113:012 Introduction to Prehistory
113:124 Politics of the Archaeological Past (undergraduate-level course)
113:130 Archaeology of the Iberian Peninsula
113:146 Anthropology of Death
113:150 Tribes and Chiefdoms of Ancient Europe
113:193 Archaeological Approaches to Social Change
113:197 Stuff of Lives: Archaeology of the Material World
113:268 Seminar: Archaeological Theory and Method
113:269 Seminar: Politics of the Archaeological Past