Helen Perlstein Pollard

  • Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University
  • Adjunct Curator, MSU Museum, Michigan State University


E-25 McDonel Hall

Curriculum vitae

Research Interests

  • Human Ecology
  • Emergence and Evolution of Social, Political and Economic Inequality
  • Prehispanic Latin America
  • Mesoamerica
  • Western Mexico
  • Tarascans/purepecha

Biographical Info

HELEN PERLSTEIN POLLARD, Professor of Anthropology, has carried out archaeological and ethnohistoric research in western Mexico since 1970. Her research and teaching deals with two broad issues: human ecology and the emergence and evolution of social, political and economic inequality. Within the context of human ecology she focuses on (1) human adaptation to environmental fluctuation and (2) the impact of humans on the environment in the context of the emergence and development of prehistoric states and empires. Her studies of prehistoric states focuses on the emergence and evolution of social stratification, political centralization, and the political economies of archaic states and empires. Specifically, her research deals with central and west Mexico, especially Michoacán and the PurépechaTarascans, and the development of social theory in archaeology to understand the evolution of inequality by class, ethnicity, and gender.Dr. Pollard’s research in Mexico has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Heinz Foundation, and Michigan State University. Since coming to Michigan State she has carried out fieldwork in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, Michoacán, Mexico, in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009 and laboratory analysis on campus in 1997-8 and 2001-2003 on archaeological collections on loan from Mexico. In all field and laboratory work she has incorporated undergraduate and graduate students and collaborated with colleagues at other institutions in the U.S. and Mexico, including the Universidad Michoacana and El Colegio de Michoacán.In addition to her work in western Mexico, Dr. Pollard has carried out archaeological research in the Andes and the U.S. Her own graduate training was supported by Woodrow Wilson Fellowships, the Ford Foundation, and Columbia University (PhD 1972). She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa (Barnard College 1967).EducationPhD. in Anthropology, August 1972, Columbia University.            Dissertation: Prehispanic Urbanism at Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan.A.B. in Anthropology, June 1967, Barnard College, Columbia UniversityEmployment History 1996 –             Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. 1991 – 1996  Associate Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. 1986 – 1991  Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. 1985 – 1986  Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology-Sociology, State University of New York, Oswego.    1975 – 1985  Assistant Professor of Anthropology (Adjunct), Department of Anthropology, State University of New York, Plattsburgh. 1973 – 1977  Assistant Professor of Environmental Science, Residential research semester-Miner Center, Institute for man and Environment, State University of New York, Plattsburgh.


Books and monographs:

1993 Tariacuri’s Legacy The Prehispanic Tarascan State. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

1983 The Tarascan Civilization: A Late Prehispanic Cultural System. Vanderbilt University Publications in Anthropology, 28, Nashville (co-authored with S. Gorenstein).

Book chapters

2009  Un modelo para el surgimiento del Estado tarasco, for Las Sociedades Complejas del  Occidente de México en el Mundo Mesoamericano, Homenaje al Dr. Phil C. Weigand, edited by Eduardo Williams, Lorenza López Mestas, and Rodrigo Esparza, pp. 225-253, El Colegio de Michoacán, Zamora, México.

Un mapa etnico del Estado tarasco. Atlas etnográfico del Estado de Michoacán, editor Aida Castilleja, INAH Michoacán, Mexico. (In press)

La economía política del almacenamiento dentro del Estado tarasco prehispánico. In: Arqueología del almacenamiento en tiempos prehispánicos, desde el Norte de México hasta el Altiplano central, organizers S. Bortot, V. Darras, and D. Michelet, CEMCA (Centro francés de estudios mexicanos y centroamericanos, México) and the Laboratory Archéologie des Amériques of the CNRS (Paris)., Mexico City. (In press)

2005 From Imperial Core to Colonial Periphery: The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin 1400-1800. For: The Late Postclassic to Spanish Era Transition in Mesoamerica, eds. Rani Alexander and Susan Kepecs, pp. 65-76, The University of New Mexico Press, Alburquerque.

2005 Michoacán en el mundo mesoamericano prehispánico: Erongarícuaro, Michoacán y los estados teotihuacano y tarasco. El antiguo occidente de Mexico. Nuevas perspectivas sobre el pasado prehispánico. Pp. 283-303, Editores Eduardo Williams, Phil C. Weigand, Lorenza López Mestas, David C. Grove, El Colegio de Michoacán-INAH Guadalajara.

2004 La fase Loma Alta en la cuenca de Pátzcuaro: Unas raíces del pueblo purépecha. Las tradiciones arqueológicas del Occidente de México, ed. Efraín Cárdenas García, pp. 183-193, El Colegio de Michoacán, Zamora, Mexico.

2003 Central places and cities in the Core of the Tarascan State. In Urbanization in Mesoamerica, eds. William T. Sanders and Alba Guadalupe Mastache, pp. 345-390, INAH and Pennsylvania University Press. Bilingual edition: El Urbanismo en Mesoamérica, Lugares Centrales y Ciudades en el Núcleo del Estado Tarasco.

2003 Development of a Tarascan core: The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin. The Postclassic Mesoamerican World, eds. F. Berdan and M. E. Smith, pp. 227-237, University of Utah Press.

2000 Tarascans and Their Ancestors: The Prehistory of Michoacan. Greater Mesoamerica: The Archaeology of West and Northwest Mesoamerica, edited by M. Foster and S. Gorenstein, pp. 59-70, University of Utah Press.

1994 Late Postclassic imperial expansion and economic exchange within the Tarascan domain. In Economies and Polities in the Aztec Realm, edited by M. Smith and M. Hodge, pp. 447-470, Studies on Culture and Society, Vol. 6, Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, SUNY, Albany, distributed by University of Texas Press. (co-authored with T. Vogel)

1994 Ethnicity and political control in a complex society: The Tarascan State of prehispanic Mexico. In Factional Competition and Political Development in the New World, ed. E. Brumfiel and J. W. Fox, pp. 79-88, Cambridge University Press.


2008 A Model of the Emergence of the Tarascan State Ancient Mesoamerica, 19 (2): 217-230

2006 Desarrollo del Estado Tarasco: Proyecto Erongarícuaro. El Boletín del Consejo de Arqueología del INAH, Julio. On-line journal at http://www.inah.gob.mx/index.html

2005 Lake level change, climate, and the impact of natural events: the role of seismic and volcanic events in the formation of the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, Michoacán, Mexico. I. Israde-Alcántara, V.H. Garduño-Monroy, C.T. Fisher and, H.P. Pollard Quaternary International 135 (1): 35-46.

2003 A reexamination of human induced environmental change within the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, Michoacán, Mexico. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 100, no.8: 4957 -4962, supplementary tables on line. Christopher T. Fisher, Helen P. Pollard, Isabel Israde, Victor Hugo Garduno, Subir K.Banerjee

1999 Mortuary Patterns of Regional Elites in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin of Western Mexico. (With L. Cahue) Latin American Antiquity 10(3): 259-280. 1999 Intensive Agriculture and Socio-Political Development in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, Michoacán, Mexico. Antiquity 73 (281): 642-649. (with C.T. Fisher and C. Frederick)

1997 Recent Research in West Mexican Archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Research, 5 (4): 345-384.

1991 The construction of ideology in the emergence of the prehispanic Tarascan State. Ancient Mesoamerica 2: 167-179.

1987 The Political Economy of Prehispanic Tarascan Metallurgy. American Antiquity 52 (4): 741-752.

1982 Ecological variation and economic exchange in the Tarascan State. American Ethnologist 9 (2): 250-268.

1980 Central places and cities: a consideration of the Protohistoric Tarascan State. American Antiquity 45 (4): 677-696.

1980 Agrarian potential, population and the Tarascan State. Science 209 (4453): 274-277 (co-authored with S. Gorenstein).

1977 An analysis of urban zoning and planning in prehispanic Tzintzuntzan. Proceedings: American Philosophical Society 121 (1): 46-69.