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Jerry Moore: NSF Awards $191,000 Grant for Undergraduate Research in Peru



Jerry Moore, professor of anthropology, on location in Peru;photo courtesy of
Jerry Moore

Jerry Moore: NSF Awards $191,000 Grant for Undergraduate Research in Peru

After five years of trying, Jerry Moore, professor and chair, Anthropology Department, has received the $191,000 in support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Archaeology Program for research in northern Peru. When asked what worked in acquiring the grant this time, he laughs, “Sheer persistence. It’s not at all uncommon for an NSF proposal to have to be revised at least once. Over the last five years, the competition for these funds has become absolutely fierce. In this last round, 67 proposals were submitted. Ten will be funded. We are very pleased.”

Moore often says that he can’t understand why everyone doesn’t stop whatever else they’re doing and become an anthropologist. At 17, he decided to examine “how humans became so diverse, not only at any given time, but through time, and how it is that they understood, in such different ways, their respective places in the world and the universe.

“My family was on a summer vacation in British Columbia and we went to the provincial museum,” remembers the professor and chair of the Anthropology Department. “There was this fabulous Northwest Coast American Indian art and I was  looking at what I thought was a mirror image of a thunderbird that met at the beak. But when I read the caption, it explained that it was that culture’s typical way of taking a three-dimensional object, in this case, a god, and depicting it in two dimensions by bifurcating it and laying it out, in the same way we have conventions for showing perspective in art. When I read that, I thought, ‘I wonder if they saw the world in that way.’ It turned out they didn’t. But that was the question.”

Upon returning home, Moore began to read voraciously about Native American cultures and even went so far as to interview the inhabitants of a reservation in Central California.

“I came back to high school on Monday morning and the kids would ask each other, ‘What did you do over the weekend?,’” he recalls. “Most people would say they went out to football games and parties. Then they’d say, ‘Jerry, what did you do?’ And I said, ‘Well, I was interviewing my Miwok Indian informant and took some legends down…’ I thought it was the coolest thing!”

Moore’s NSF investigation, “Architecture and Power in Far Northern Peru: Archaeological Investigations in Tumbes, Peru,” will involve a binational team of American and Peruvian archaeologists; graduate students from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; UC Riverside; and undergraduate students from CSUDH and the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo of Peru.  Over eight months of fieldwork scheduled for the summers of 2006 and 2007, Moore and his team will engage in the first comprehensive archaeological study in the department [state] of Tumbes, Peru. He his interest in studying this area, which historically has gotten little notice from researchers and scholars.

“Virtually no one has worked in the area at all, in part because there are bigger sites elsewhere, with bigger mounds and flashier temples that are easier to find,” he says. “I’m always interested in frontiers: biogeographical, cultural, environmental, and intellectual.

"We have no idea what has happened in this region over thousands of years. The Inca were in this area, in around 1470 A.D. Tumbes is the first place where Francisco Pizzarro encountered a representative of the Inca empire. We think there are some local cultures and chiefdoms that developed between 1000 and 1470 A.D. And from that point on, it’s a blank.”

Moore began working in Tumbes in 1996 with the support of the H. John Heinz III Charitable Foundation, beginning with an archaeological reconnaissance that recorded 36 sites. In 2003, he directed a small excavation project with funding from the Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Program and a grant from the Curtis T. and Mary Brennan Foundation. This project was the first excavation in the Tumbes region in four decades.

“That work convinced me that far from being a backwater,” Moore states, “Tumbes sat in the midst of a vast and complex network of cultural exchanges, trade, and political forces.  And I want to understand those prehistoric dynamics.”

According to Moore, the unique environment would have lent itself to becoming a desirable location for developing cultures, due to the juxtaposition of two climates.

“The Peruvian-Humboldt Current, that runs up the entire west coast of South America, creates the Atacama desert, which is the driest in the world, despite the cold,” he states. “In fact, the dryness is actually caused by the water being so cold that it doesn’t evaporate. This creates a desert strip that encounters another warm water current coming down from the Pacific coast of Central America and northwestern South America. The two currents go out to the Galapagos Islands and come together at Tumbes. So, within 10 miles, one of the most arid deserts in the world leads to swamplands with mangrove swamps and heavy rainfall.”

Tumbes’ location on the borders of Peru and Ecuador have limited scholarly access to the area, according to Moore, who emphasizes the difficulty of obtaining permits to explore the region from both governments and his hopes to open lines of communication between their academic communities.

“Folks who have worked in Peru do not work in Ecuador and vice versa because of the red tape,” he notes. “By the time you work through System A, you’re loathe to go to System B and start over. Because they have fought a war against each other over these territories as recently as 1995, Ecuadorian archaeologists and Peruvian archaeologists have not been speaking to one another. Now that Ecuador and Peru have settled those land claims and demilitarized the area, it's an opportune time to open up the channels of scientific communication across the border as well.

“One of the things that we’re hoping to develop in addition to the NSF research is get funding to support a two-week workshop with Ecuadorian archaeologists and Peruvian archaeologists, and maybe some folks from France and the United States,” he says. “We would spend about a week in Ecuador looking at sites and collections and talking archaeology, then take a break of about four days and meet again on the other side of the border and do the same thing. My bet is that in three weeks, we will completely transform the way in which this region is thought about.”

Moore’s book, The Prehistory of Baja California (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2006), which he co-edited with archaeologist Don Laylander, is in its second edition. Having written extensively on ancient urban landscapes, he cites his interest in “the way people build their landscapes, their environments. And the way the existence of those environments shapes their actions.

“One of my research interests is what is sometimes called the cultural landscape of the built environment. One of the ways in which archaeologists can think about political power is to look at architecture and its relationship to the nature of power. For instance, the larger the public monument is, the more labor was brought to construct it, which is a political act.”

The project will look at two sites dating from 1000 A.D. to 1400 A.D. and two other sites that are dated following this period, which Moore believes may be part of the Chimú empire, the largest culture to develop in the Andes until the Inca.

“The Chimú controlled the vast area of the North coast of Peru,” he says. “What we don’t know for certain is if they controlled Tumbes. Did they actually conquer it? Did they engage in exchange and commerce or have minor outposts? My hunch is that they were interested in getting access to Tumbes’ resources but that they didn’t actually take possession of the area.”

Along with the archaeological exploration that is to take place, Moore hopes that the experience will help CSUDH undergraduates explore career possibilities. He credits the success in obtaining the grant with the documentation of his work in Baja, in which approximately 90 CSUDH students have participated since 1992. While the selection process is still in progress for the Tumbes project, alumna Lucia Gudiel (Class of ’01, B.A., Anthropology/Archaeology), who is taking preliminary exams at a doctoral program at UC Riverside, has already been selected to represent her alma mater.

“The NSF has a variety of activities that focus on research experiences for undergraduates,” he says. “Extra evaluation points given for the Research at Undergraduate Institutions Program. We not only bring undergraduates into the field, but 89 percent of them are women and other groups that are historically excluded from the sciences, 20 percent of whom go on to graduate studies in anthropology.”

With the help of the Office of Research and Funded Programs, Moore is working on obtaining additional funds from NSF through its Research Experience for Undergraduates initiative. He enthuses about the academic and cultural opportunities for students.

“Despite the fact that about 30 percent of our students come from a Hispanic heritage,” he notes, “a surprisingly small percentage of those students have spent time in Latin America.

“One of the things that excites me about this is that we’re going to take Dominguez Hills students to a completely different cultural experience and into a line of research. At the end of that experience, they’ll know that they can do it, too. These kinds of field experiences are largely reserved for graduate students. Undergraduate experiences in research are relatively few and they’re something to be highly valued, because they are transformative. They take people’s lives and transform them in ways they wouldn’t otherwise know. A large number of our students who have the study skills and the intellectual ability have not gotten the experience that tells them, ‘Yes, you can have a Ph.D., also.’”

After 15 years at CSUDH, Moore hopes that experiences like the Tumbes project give his students a clearer sense of cultural differences, noting that, “In a place like Southern California and in a place like Dominguez Hills, where we are surrounded by diversity, one of the things we often don’t realize is that we can be surrounded by diversity, but never understand it."

Whether or not they become archaeologists, Moore hopes the one thing his students take away from his teaching is simple, perhaps echoing the awakening curiosity of his teenage self.

“This is the basic thing,” he beams. “The world is a fascinating place.”

-Joanie Harmon





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Last updated Monday, January 30, 2:48 p.m., by Joanie Harmon