Adam T. Smith

Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in Anthropology


The central preoccupation of my research and writing is the role that the material world—everyday objects, representational media, natural and built landscapes—plays in our political lives.  Our social worlds, from the ancient past to the modern present, are forged upon a dense thicket of objects, from the spaces and places we move through to the plethora of things that orbit around us.  Yet rarely do we pause to understand how this material world has shaped our political procedures and values.  This neglect is particularly surprising since at root, the two dominant political traditions of the modern era—liberalism and socialism—are as concerned to define our relations to things (or at least to property in the abstract) as they are to describe our ties to one another as fellow citizens.  The canny recognition that in order to reshape the political community we must start by remolding our ties to the tangible world around us hints at, but does not explain, the depth of our entanglement with material culture.  How did we arrive at this intimate relationship with a material world that in the last two centuries has attained unprecedented ubiquity and complexity?  And what are the implications of this avowedly archaeological view of the polity for the way we understand the principles and priorities of political association?  These are the primary questions that thread through my scholarship and my current research seeks to advance this broad project in theoretical, historical, and empirical terms.

Research Focus

My current research is spread across multiple projects. Caucasus Heritage Watch uses satellite image to monitor and document threats to cultural heritage in the South Caucasus.

Project ArAGATS is a collaborative research initiative in Armenia focused on documenting the region's long-term social and political dynamics from the Bronze Age to today.

The St. James AME Zion Community Excavations use archaeology as a forum for helping the Church and wider community tell empowering stories of Ithaca's past.

Awards and Honors

2023-2025    Fellow, Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity, Cornell University.
2023    Finalist, Falling Walls Science Breakthrough of the Year, Social Sciences and Humanities.
2023    Certificate of Communal Partnership, St. James AME Zion Church, Ithaca NY.
2010-2011    John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow.
2010-2011    Fellow, Cornell University Society for the Humanities.
2006-2007    Fellow, Howard Foundation.
2003-2004     Fellow, Franke Institute for the Humanities, University of Chicago.
2003    National Endowment for the Humanities/American Councils for International Education Collaborative Research Fellow.
1997-1999    Fellow, Michigan Society of Fellows, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Professional Experience

Cornell University

  • 2021-present    Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in Anthropology.
  • 2015-2021    Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology.
  • 2011-2015    Professor, Department of Anthropology.

University of Chicago

  • 2011    Professor, Department of Anthropology.
  • 2005-2011    Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology.
  • 2000-2005    Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

  • 1997-1999    Assistant Professor, Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies.

University of Arizona

  • 1997    Lecturer, Department of Anthropology.


Books and Edited Volumes

  • 2016 Fitful Histories and Unruly Publics: Rethinking Community and Temporality in Eurasian Archaeology. Co-edited with L. Khatchadourian, K. Weber, E. Hite). Brill Academic Publishers.
  • 2015 The Political Machine: Assembling Sovereignty in the Bronze Age Caucasus. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  • 2012 The Archaeology of Power and Politics in Eurasia: Regimes and Revolutions.  Co-edited with Charles Hartley and G. Bike Yazıcıoğlu. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • 2009 The Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies I: The Foundations of Research and Regional Survey in the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Armenia (with R. Badalyan and P. Avetisyan).  Oriental Institute Press, Chicago.
  • 2007 Social Orders and Social Landscapes: Proceedings of the 2005 University of Chicago Conference on Eurasian Archaeology.  Co-edited with L. Popova and C. Hartley.  Cambridge Scholars Press, Newcastle.
  • 2006 Beyond the Steppe and the Sown: Proceedings of the 2002 University of Chicago Conference on Eurasian Archaeology.  Co-edited with D. Peterson and L. Popova.  Colloquia Pontica Series.  Brill, Leiden.
  • 2003 The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities.  The University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • 2003 Archaeology in the Borderlands: Investigations in Caucasia and Beyond.  Co-edited with K. Rubinson.  The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Publications at UCLA, Los Angeles.

Select Articles:

  • 2023 Monitoring Heritage at Risk: Caucasus Heritage Watch and the Armenian Monuments of Nagorno-Karabakh (with L. Khatchadourian and I. Lindsay). Systemizing the Past, edited by Y. Grekyan and A. Bobokhyan, pp. 428-439. Archaeopress, Oxford.
  • 2022 Unseeing the Past: Archaeology and the Legacy of the Armenian Genocide. Current Anthropology 63(S25):S56-S71.
  • 2022 Civilization Machines: Value and Recognition on the Armenian Highland from the Bronze Age to Today. Scottish Archaeological Journal 44(1): 64-87.
  • *2020    Bronze Age Metaphysics. In Constructing Kurgans: Burial Mounds and Funerary Customs in the Caucasus, Northwestern Iran, and Eastern Anatolia in the Bronze and Iron Age, edited by N. Laneri, G. Palumbi, and S. M. Celka, pp. 1-20. Studies on the Ancient Near East and the Mediterranean, Florence.
  • *2018    A New Chronological Model for the Bronze and Iron Age Caucasus (with S. Manning, L. Khatchadourian, R. Badalyan, I. Lindsay, A. Greene, and M. Marshall). Antiquity 92(366): 1530-1551.
  • 2017  The Kurgans of Gegharot: A preliminary report on the results of the 2013-14 excavations of Project ArAGATS (with R. Badalyan). Aramazd.
  • 2016  A Preliminary Report on the 2008, 2010, and 2011 Investigations of Project ArAGATS on the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Republic of Armenia (with R. Badalyan, I. Lindsay, L. Khatchadourian, A. Harutyunyan, A. Greene, M. Marshall, B. Monahan, and R. Hovsepyan).  Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 46: 149-222
  • 2015   Objects in Crisis: Curation, Repair, and the Historicity of Things in the South Caucasus (1500-300 BC) (with L. Khatchadourian). In Counternarratives and Macrohistories: New Perspectives on the Archaeology of Complex Societies, edited by G. Emberling, pp. 231-258.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • 2015  Wood resource management based on charcoals from the Bronze Age site of Gegharot (central Armenia) (with F. Jude, D. Marguerie, R. Badalyan, and A. Delwaide).  Quaternary International.
  • 2014  Divination and Sovereignty: The Late Bronze Age Shrines at Gegharot, Armenia (with J. Leon). American Journal of Archaeology 118: 549-563.
  • 2014  Geophysical Survey at Late Bronze Age Fortresses: Comparing Methods in Diverse Geological Contexts of Northwestern Armenia (with I. Lindsay, J. Leon, and C. Wiktorowicz). Antiquity 88: 578-595
  • 2012 ‘Yerevan, My Ancient Erebuni’: Archaeological Repertoires, Public Assemblages, and the Manufacture of a (Post-)Soviet Nation.  In Regimes and Revolutions: Power, Violence, and Labor in Eurasia Between the Ancient and the Modern, edited by C. Hartley, G. B. Yazıcıoğlu, and A. T. Smith. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • 2012 The Caucasus and the Near East.  In Blackwell Companion to the Archaeology of the Near East, edited by Daniel Potts, pp. 668-686.  Blackwell, Oxford.
  • 2012 The Prehistory of an Urartian Landscape.  In: Biainili-Urartu edited by S. Kroll, P. Zimansky, U. Hellwag, C. Gruber, M. Roaf, pp. 39-52. Peeters, Leuven.
  • 2011 Archaeologies of Sovereignty.  Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 415-432.
  • 2010 Project ArAGATS: 10 Years of Investigations into Bronze and Iron Age Sites in the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Republic of Armenia (with R. Badalyan and L. Khatchadourian).  TÜBA-AR: The Turkish Academy of Sciences Journal of Archaeology 13: 263-276.
  • 2010 Magnetic Survey in the Investigation of Sociopolitical Change at a Late Bronze Age Fortress Settlement in Northwestern Armenia (with I. Lindsay and R. Badalyan).  Archaeological Prospection 17:15-27.
  • 2008 Village, Fortress, and Town in Bronze and Iron Age Southern Caucasia: A Preliminary Report on the 2003-2006 Investigations of Project ArAGATS on the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Republic of Armenia (with R. Badalyan, I. Lindsay, L. Khatchadourian, and P. Avetisyan).  Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 40:45-105.
  • 2006 A History of Archaeological Practices in the Republic of Armenia (with I. Lindsay).  Journal of Field Archaeology 31(2):165-184.
  • 2006 Representational Aesthetics and Political Subjectivity: The Spectacular in Urartian Images of Performance.  In Spectacle, Performance, and Power in Premodern Complex Society, edited by T. Inomata and L. Coben, pp. 103-134.  Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, CA.
  • 2006 Before Argishti: The Roots of Complex Societies in Caucasia, Notes from the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Armenia.  In Beyond the Steppe and the Sown: Proceedings of the 2002 University of Chicago Conference on Eurasian Archaeology, edited by D. Peterson, L. Popova and A. T. Smith.  Colloquia Pontica Series.  Brill, Leiden.
  • 2005 Prometheus Unbound: Southern Caucasia in Prehistory. Journal of World Prehistory 19(4): 229-279.
  • 2004 The End of the Essential Archaeological Subject.  Archaeological Dialogues 11(1): 1-20.
  • 2004 Early Complex Societies in Southern Caucasia: A Preliminary Report on the 2002 Archaeological Investigations by Project ArAGATS in the Tsakahovit Plain, Republic of Armenia  (with R. Badalyan, P. Avetisyan, and M. Zardaryan).  American Journal of Archaeology 108(1): 1-41.
  • 2003 The Emergence of Socio-Political Complexity in Southern Caucasia (with R. Badalyan and P. Avetisyan).  In Archaeology in the Borderlands: Investigations in Caucasia and Beyond, edited by A. T. Smith and K. S. Rubinson.  Cotsen Institute Publications, Los Angeles.
  • 2001 The Limitations of Doxa: Agency and Subjectivity from an Archaeological Point of View.  Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2): 155-171.
  • 2000 Rendering the Political Aesthetic: Political Legitimacy in Urartian Representations of the Built Environment.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 19: 131-163.
  • 1999 The Making of an Urartian Landscape in the Ararat Plain: A Study of State Architectonics.  American Journal of Archaeology 103(1): 43-69.  

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