Research Overview

What effect have humans had on tropical environments over the last several thousand years?

We often take for granted how unnatural our present-day landscape actually is. The Neotropics are no exception, having been occupied by untold numbers of humans for thousands of years. These societies permanently altered plant and animal populations through hunting and harvesting, by domesticating new species, moving and introducing species into new areas, and by occasionally harming or exterminating certain taxa, especially in recent years. To understand the tropical landscape today and what is “natural,” we need to examine and be able to recognize where and how humans have influenced the environment in the past.

How were animals integral to the rise of ancient communities and early states?

Animals and their resources were used for much more than just food in ancient societies, just as they are today. Hunting, fishing, raising and exchanging animals has happened for centuries, profoundly changing both the course of human societies as well as the spread and evolution of animal species on the landscape. As human populations grew over time, people made increasing efforts to control and selectively distribute certain animals and their products, which helped develop and maintain complex political and economic state systems.

How did ancient pre-Columbian societies manage and move animal resources?

Ancient peoples in the Americas were often on the move, and so were their animals. Dogs, turkeys, macaws, fish, and shellfish are only a few of the animals we know that were moving frequently throughout Central America as part of an extensive trade network. Moving and raising animals necessitated specialized experience and knowledge of how to acquire, maintain, and breed particular species. Using zooarchaeological analysis in combination with stable isotope geochemistry, we can study how animals were hunted or bred (often resulting in dramatic changes to their skeletal development), were raised in captivity and fed a human-mandated diet, and were exchanged long distances from one area to another.

Education

2016 Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Florida. Dissertation: A Zooarchaeological Perspective on the Formation of Maya States.

2011 M.A., Anthropology, University of Florida Master’s Thesis: Beyond Capitals and Kings: A Comparison of Animal Resource Use among Ten Late Classic Maya Sites.

2009 B.A., Archaeology, Minor in Biology, Magna cum Laude, Boston University Senior Honors Thesis: From Ritual to Rubbish: The Maya Zooarchaeological Record from San Bartolo, El Petén, Guatemala.

Selected Publications

Sharpe, Ashley E., Nicole Smith-Guzmán, Jason Curtis, Ilean Isaza-Aizpurúa, George D. Kamenov, Thomas A. Wake, and Richard G. Cooke. 2021. A Preliminary Multi-isotope Assessment of Human Mobility and Diet in Pre-Columbian Panama. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 36:102876. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2021.102876

Clarke, Mary E., Ashley E. Sharpe, Elizabeth M. Hannigan, Megan E. Carden, Gabriella Velásquez Luna, Boris Beltrán, and Heather Hurst. 2021. Revisiting the Past: Material Negotiations between the Classic Maya and an Entombed Sweat Bath at Xultun, Guatemala. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 31(1):67–94. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774320000281

Sharpe, Ashley E., Takeshi Inomata, Daniela Triadan, Melissa Burham, Jessica MacLellan, Jessica Munson, and Flory Pinzón. 2020. The Maya Preclassic to Classic Transition Observed through Faunal Trends from Ceibal, Guatemala. PLOS ONE 15(4):e0230892. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0230892

Sharpe, Ashley E. 2019. The Ancient Shell Collectors: Two Millennia of Marine Shell Exchange at Ceibal, Guatemala. Ancient Mesoamerica 30(3):493–516. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0956536118000366

Sharpe, Ashley E., Kitty F. Emery, Takeshi Inomata, Daniela Triadan, George D. Kamenov, and John Krigbaum. 2018. Earliest Isotopic Evidence in the Maya Region for Animal Management and Long-Distance Trade at the Site of Ceibal, Guatemala. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1713880115

LeFebvre, Michelle J., and Ashley E. Sharpe. 2018. Contemporary Challenges in Zooarchaeological Specimen Identification. In Zooarchaeology in Practice, edited by Christina M. Giovas and Michelle J. LeFebvre, pp. 35–57. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-64763-0_3

Sharpe, Ashley E., George D. Kamenov, Adrian Gilli, David A. Hodell, Kitty F. Emery, Mark Brenner, and John Krigbaum. 2016. Lead (Pb) Isotope Baselines for Studies of Ancient Human Migration and Trade in the Maya Region. PLOS ONE 11(11):e0164871. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0164871

Sharpe, Ashley E., and Kitty F. Emery. 2015. Differential Animal Use within Three Late Classic Maya States: Implications for Politics and Trade. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 40:280–301. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2015.09.003

Sharpe, Ashley E. 2014. A Reexamination of the Birds in the Central Mexican Codices. Ancient Mesoamerica 25(2):317–336. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0956536114000297

 

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