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Kathryn Sampeck

Global Professor in Historical Archaeology, University of Reading

Kathryn Sampeck (BA, MA, University of Chicago; PhD Tulane University) Sampeck serves as the Secretary of the Executive Board of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute.
is a Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University. She is a 2023-2026 British Academy Global Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Reading. Sampeck uses multidisciplinary approaches to investigate a variety of topics such as cultural landscapes, literacy, and economic systems in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Spanish colonialism, the African diaspora in Latin America, and global commerce in the Early Modern world. A special focus of her archaeological and historical research explores the cultural history of taste, cultural landscapes, food systems, and commerce in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and in the Early Modern world. She has devoted years of archaeological and historical research to understanding the cultural history of chocolate. She co-edited, with Stacey Schwartzkopf, the 2017 volume 'Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica'. She has published numerous articles in leading peer-reviewed history, anthropology, archaeology, and geography and Latin American Studies journals. Forthcoming works include 'Rich: Cacao Money in Mesoamerica' and 'Afro-Latin American Archaeology: An Introduction'. Her fellowships include three Fulbrights, Central America Fellow at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, a long-term Fellow and Digital Fellow at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, and a residential Fellow at the John D. Rockefeller Library at Colonial Williamsburg. Major research grants include the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. She is Editor of the peer-reviewed, flagship scholarly journal Historical Archaeology.

Dr. Sampeck teaches classes in historical archaeology, Afro-Latin America, landscape archaeology, archaeological theory, and anthropology of food. Her field school in eastern Tennessee, conducted in partnership with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, explores the nature of 16th-century Spanish and Indigenous interaction and how to detect political, social, and economic organisation in archaeological landscapes.

Her four-year British Academy Global Professorship research project studies the complex history of profound social, economic, and political impacts on the societies who produce and consume chocolate. Central America is pivotal to this global story, but understanding its place in chocolate’s history requires material evidence and improved interpretive tools to evaluate its real contribution. Her project is integrating archaeological, documentary and other contextual sources and using cutting-edge biomolecular techniques to build a multi-scalar interpretation of Mesoamerican cuisine networks through time, from 900 BCE-1900 CE. By providing a deep-time perspective on issues of sustainability and structural inequality, the project results will speak directly to social and ecological challenges surrounding chocolate today.


  • –present
    Global Professor in Historical Archaeology, University of Reading