- Associate Professor, Anthropology
- Director, Central Belize Archaeological Survey (CBAS) Project
E-32 McDonel Hall and 408 Giltner Hall (lab)
- Papua New Guinea
- Geometric Morphometrics
My primary research specialty is bioarchaeology, which concerns the analysis and interpretation of skeletal remains from archaeological contexts. I have conducted most of my research at Maya sites in Belize, where I am currently the director of the Central Belize Archaeological Survey project (http://anthropology.msu.edu/cbasproject/). Located in the Caves Branch and Roaring Creek river valleys in west-central Belize, this project focuses on a variety of sites, including ritual rockshelters and caves, several large urban ceremonial centers, and surrounding settlement zones. The excavations and analyses conducted so far show that ancient Maya communities used the cave sites for various ceremonial and mortuary purposes over a span of approximately 2000 years. The changes over time in the rituals performed at the rural rockshelters and caves closely parallel sociopolitical transitions identified at the monumental centers we have investigated within our research area, as well as at other sites found throughout the rest of the Maya region. For this reason, the sites in central Belize are important in characterizing the effects of large-scale sociopolitical transformations on ancient Maya communities. The data derived from small rural agrarian contexts continue to provide a different perspective than that of the larger urban centers at which most archaeological investigations are focused.My recent work focuses on shape analysis of crania using 3D photogrammetric models. I am working on two projects, one focused on the ancient Maya and the other on the peopling of Papua New Guinea.
Current Research Projects
My work is currently focused on bioarchaeological research on the ancient Maya and on Papua New Guinea. Students interested in carrying out dissertation research at MSU on any of the following topics are encouraged to contact me.
1. Maya Bioarchaeology. I have carried out fieldwork on caves and rock shelters in central Belize from 2005 to 2017, most recently as director of the Central Belize Archaeological Survey (2009-2017) and before that as co-director of the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project. Human skeletal materials excavated during the course of these projects, as well as from several other Maya archaeology projects in Belize, are currently curated at the MSU Bioarchaeology Laboratory. These are the focus of a series of ongoing collaborative analyses investigating aspects of ancient biology and of cultural and taphonomic alterations. In the summer of 2020, I will begin a new field research project and fieldschool in collaboration with Dr. Elizabeth Graham (University College London) investigating ancient Maya coastal trading populations at the site of Marco Gonzalez on Ambergris Caye, Belize.
2. Papua New Guinea Bioarchaeology. I have begun a new collaboration with Dr. Michael Westaway (University of Queensland) and Dr. Matt Leavesley (University of Papua New Guinea), among others, investigating the population history of Papua New Guinea. My research thus far has focused on documenting cranial collections at museums (see #3 below). However, this project will offer the opportunity for student projects in a variety of field and lab settings.
3. Geometric Morphometrics. I utilize photogrammetry to create 3D digital models of crania, from which a variety of metric and non metric data may be collected. I am in the process of creating digital repositories of crania from throughout the Maya area and from Papua New Guinea. Morphometric data collected from these models will be the focus of analyses aimed at identifying and interpreting patterns of shape variability within and between populations, with the goal of reconstructing aspects of population history in these regions.
Wrobel, Gabriel D., and Jack Biggs (2018) Osteophageous Insect Damage on Human Bone from Je’reftheel, a Maya Mortuary Cave Site in West-Central Belize. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology28(6): 745-756.
Wrobel, Gabriel D.(2018) Contexto y Significados De La Modificación Craneana En Belice Central: Interpretando Las Variaciones Entre Los Esqueletos Hallados En Cuevas Y Abrigos Rocosos. In Modificaciones Cefálicas Culturales en Mesoamérica. Una Perspectiva Continental, edited by Vera Tiesler and Carlos Serrano Sánchez, pp. 559-585. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Universidad Autonoma de Yucatán, México.
Michael, Amy R., Gabriel D. Wrobel, & Jack Biggs (2018) Understanding Late Classic Maya Mortuary Ritual in Caves: Dental Evidence of Health from Macro- and Microscopic Defects and Caries. In Bioarchaeology of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica: An Interdisciplinary Approach, edited by Cathy Willermet & Andrea Cucina, pp. 133-158. University of Florida Press, Gainesville.
Wrobel, Gabriel D., Carolyn Freiwald, Amy Michael, Christophe Helmke, Jaime J. Awe, Douglas J. Kennett, Sherry Gibbs, Josalyn M. Ferguson, & Cameron Griffith (2017) Social Identity and Geographic Origin of Maya Burials at Actun Uayazba Kab, Roaring Creek Valley, Belize. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 45: 98-114.
Wrobel, Gabriel D., & Elizabeth Graham (2015) The Buk Phase Burials of Belize: Testing Genetic Relatedness among Early Postclassic Groups in Northern Belize using Dental Morphology. In Archaeology and Bioarchaeology of Population Movement among the Prehispanic Maya, edited by Andrea Cucina, pp. 85-95. Cham: Springer Press.
Wrobel, Gabriel D., Christophe G. B. Helmke, & Carolyn Freiwald (2014) A Case Study of Funerary Cave Use from Je’reftheel, Central Belize. In The Bioarchaeology of Space and Place: Ideology, Power and Meaning in Maya Mortuary Contexts, edited by Gabriel D. Wrobel, pp. 77-106. New York: Springer Press.