Susan Alt

Susan Alt

Professor, Anthropology

Director, Archaeology of the Eastern Woodlands

Director, Native American and Indigenous Studies


  • Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2006
  • M.A., Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2002
  • B.A., Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1997

Geographical Areas of Specialization
North America; Midwest; Southeastern U.S.; Mississippi Valley

Research Interests
complexity; identity; migration; materiality; ritual; craft production; ceramics; GIS

About Susan Alt

I am an archaeologist studying Mississippian societies with a particular focus on the central Mississippi and lower Ohio valleys. My research is centered on the reconstruction of the histories of past peoples and places, utilizing social theory to understand those histories. I am fascinated by the relationships between material culture and social process, and how as archaeologists we can best “read” patterns in the material world as representative of real people, their experiences and sensibilities. My goal is to understand how societies transform themselves, both intentionally and unintentionally, via processes involving gender, ritual, memory, traditions, identity formation and hybridity. My goal is to understand how historical events and social process combine to shape human society.

I have directed large-scale excavations of villages in the Cahokia region, attempting to understand the social history of each village, as well as the day to day actions of the people who lived in them. I believe that by building histories from day to day remains, as well as from evidence of more complicated events, it is possible to get at deeper social and political processes and so better understand past peoples. This type of approach has led to a concern with understanding complexity as sets of practices rather than categorical traits. I have more recently begun to explore how ritual and craft production were manipulated to create relationships between people and places, and ultimately, how such activities became part of building polity.

My experiences with the Cahokian villages also generated an interest in the roles of migration, diversity, and identity in community and polity formation. I am currently planning research involving excavation at multiple sites as well as the evaluation of existing collections from southern Indiana west to southern Illinois and Missouri . The goals of these efforts center on determining the origins of Cahokian immigrants, and how these origins contributed to what became Mississippian society. By identifying points of origin for these immigrants, I also hope to explore whether people returned to where they or their ancestors originated when Cahokia was abandoned.