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headshot of William H. Isbell

William H. Isbell

Distinguished Professor Emeritus



Isbell explores the prehistoric development of complex societies in Peru and Bolivia, examining place, built environment, palaces, gender and power relations between political centers and peripheries as city life emerged. He is conducting an iconographic study examining how religion and ideology participated in the development of the first Central Andean empires, Tiwanaku and Wari, especially the negotiation of more shamanic approaches to the supernatural, as they competed with more priestly/worship approaches, in new cities and ceremonial centers. He has completed five seasons of excavations at the small highland city of Conchopata, and his final report on this research will include innovative and open access to virtually all of the data. This, in turn, is also a preparation for a multi-year project investigating the vast Middle Horizon city of Huari in Ayacucho, Peru. He has recently published on prehistoric Andean social organization as indicated by Andean mortuary practices, on gender pattern change in early Andean cities, on palaces and systems of power in early Andean Empires, and on both Wari and Tiwanaku. Isbell is perhaps the world's foremost authority on the Andean Middle Horizon, and is co-editor of Andean Archaeology I: Variations in Sociopolitical Organization; Andean Archaeology II: Art Landscape and Society; Andean Archaeology III: North and South, as well as the Handbook of South American Archaeology.


  • PhD, University of Illinois
  • BA, California State University at San Francisco

Research Interests

  • Anthropology and archaeology of the Americas
  • Andean prehistory
  • ancient cultures of Peru and Bolivia
  • Wari and the Central Andean middle horizon