Loyola University Chicago

College of Arts & Sciences

Keys to our past

Keys to our past

Senior Nicholas Puente's collaborative research project is helping uncover data on social inequality.

By McKenna Adams

For most travelers, finding volcanic glass buried beneath the ground in a small town outside of Veracruz, Mexico would be an interesting discovery. But, for Loyola senior Nicholas Puente, these rocks serve as useful tools in examining both ancient and modern power structures.

Puente, an anthropology major from Chicago, visited Veracruz this summer as part of an archeological excavation to determine social inequities within the region from 400 B.C. to 100 A.D. The project involved surveying and extracting obsidian tools from the site. Tools crafted from the stone were an indication of wealth during the Formative time period, which many experts believe to be the beginning of human civilization.

As the recipient of a Provost Fellowship, Puente worked closely alongside Phillip Arnold, III, PhD, an anthropology professor who specializes in Mesoamerica archeology.

Arnold said Puente’s “analysis of inequality within and between the two sites will make a genuine contribution to what we know about the prehistory of the Tuxtlas region.”

Puente, a transfer student, chose the university because of the many opportunities the school provides for archaeological research, specifically the chance to work alongside Mesoamerican archeologists, his preferred research field.

“In a large part, Dr. Arnold is what attracted me to Loyola. He’s a well respected scholar in the field and he works in an area of study I’m very interested in.”

In addition to working with Loyola faculty in Mexico this summer, Puente worked with individuals from the area, like Marcos, a guide and Veracruz specialist, whose been employed by the excavation site for years.

 “Marcos has worked there since the earliest excavation in 1995,” Puente said. “He’s been working with the material in this area for years… He was a lot of help in showing me around the sites and giving me background, telling me about his experiences at other excavations in the past.”

Puente highlighted how important is was to meet with fellow archeologists based in Veracruz who were open and willing to talk about his ideas and also offered up guidance in his research.

Now back at Loyola, Puente is using the data collected from the archeological sites to create topographical maps of the area. He then uses the maps to calculate Gini coefficients that quantify historic inequality in a way that is comparable to our current society. He recently applied to present his fellowship at the annual convention of the Society of American Archeologists.

Puente says the information he has gathered could possibly provide valuable insight about modern-day socio-economic inequalities.

“Archeology is looking back into the past, but it’s also looking back into the past with specific questions in mind and trying to understand how we, as a people, were in the past, and how that reflects onto our current state,” he said. “How much have we really changed? How can we apply lessons learned in the past onto our present?”

Anthropology major Nicholas Puente in the lab with his mentor Phillip Arnold, III, PhD, professor of anthropology.