Edward Swenson

Professor, St. George Campus; Director, Archaeology Centre
AP 504
(416) 946-5186


Fields of Study

Areas of Interest

Research Keywords: Andean prehistory; Moche civilization; ancient Khmer civilization; archaeology of ritual and performance; religion and ideology; power and violence; emergence of complex society; pre-industrial city; urbanism; landscape history; architecture and monumentalism; semiotics; materiality and assemblage theory; social memory; human-environment relations; politics of the past; GIS and spatial analysis; ceramic analysis

Research Region: Ancient Andes, Khmer civilization


Over the past 15 years, Professor Swenson has conducted research on the religious architecture of ancient Peru and Cambodia to understand how social engineering was enacted through the literal engineering of the places that constrain and enable social life.  His investigations have shed new light on how spatial power is achieved not simply through the ability to mobilize the technological knowledge, labour, and resources required to undertake public work campaigns but through the long-term success of infrastructures to shape everyday dispositions and orient fields of action.  Swenson further explores how “place-making” in pre-modern societies was a profoundly religious undertaking, and how it played an important role in the creation of culturally distinct political worlds.  His scholarship has advanced knowledge on general theoretical problems relating to the urban condition, the social life of things, semiotics, ancient ideologies and ontologies, New Materialist theories, and non-western experiences of time and conceptions of history. 

Dr. Swenson has been engaged in archaeological field research in the Jequetepeque Valley of northern Peru since 1997, and he is currently directing excavations of the large urban complex of Cañoncillo (Proyecto Jatanca-Huaca Colorada-Tecapa) located on the south side of the valley.  A central objective of the research is to interpret how long-term processes of urbanization (400 BC-AD 1000) were constituted by the everyday practices, identity politics, and religious values of Late Formative and Moche communities.  Field investigations have gauged how transformations in the construction of public architecture differently correlated with changes in ritual activity, economic production, consumption habits, and the configuration and experience of domestic space.  Analysis of the historical interrelationships of different regimes of practice, as mediated by the built environment, are permitting interpretations of the cultural particulars of urban power relations in the Jequetepeque region.  Therefore, the research intends to make contributions to understanding the pre-industrial city, violence and subject formation, the archaeology of ritual and monumental architecture, and the politics of landscape and social memory. The Jatanca-Huaca Colorada-Tecapa Project has involved the participation of numerous undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Toronto, and other institutions in Canada, Peru, England, and the United States.

In the past decade, Dr. Swenson has initiated archeological fieldwork in Cambodia as a co-director of the Yaśodharāśramas Archaeological Project (in partnership with the École Française d’Extrême Orient). The founder of Angkor, Yaśovarman I (889-910 CE), embarked on an unprecedented building project and commissioned four āśrama (hermitages) in his new capital city and hundreds more in the provinces of the expanding empire.  These monasteries are remarkable for they were dedicated to different religious sects (Śaivite, Vaśnavite, Buddhist), expressing the inclusive and ecumenical spirit of Yaśovarman’s imperial project.  Excavations at a number of urban and provincial āśrama are providing novel insights on how the Angkorian regime spread Khmer high culture and refashioned political subjects in ancient Southeast Asia.

Ultimately, Swenson’s cross-cultural research affirms that to imagine alternate futures, we must strive to understand the remarkable diversity in past economies, ecologies, worldviews, and political orders. 

Prior Education:

  • PhD Anthropology, University of Chicago, Chicago IL, 2004
  • MA Anthropology, University of Chicago, Chicago IL, 1998
  • BA History and Archaeology, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, 1995


Since joining the University of Toronto, Professor Swenson have been awarded a number of research grants from the CFI (Canadian Foundation of Innovation), National Geographic, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Connaught Foundation, and SSHRC.

Recent Publications


In progress   Swenson, Edward R.  Infrastructures of Religion and Power: A Critical Assessment of Archaeologies of Materiality, Landscape, and Urbanization.

2018  Jennings, Justin and Edward R. Swenson (co-editors). Powerful Places of the Ancient Andes.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

2018   Swenson, Edward R. and Andy Roddick (co-editors).  Constructions of Time and History in the Ancient Andes.  Boulder: University of Colorado Press.

2009  Dillehay, Tom, Alan L. Kolata, and Edward Swenson  2009  Paisajes Culturales en el Valle del Jequetepeque: Los Yacimientos Arqueológicos.  Ediciones Sian, Trujillo and Lima, Peru.

Journal Articles and Book Chapters

In Press  Swenson, Edward R.  City, State, and Market: Lessons from Mesoamerica (concluding discussant chapter). In Urban Commerce in Ancient Mesoamerica, edited by Elizabeth H. Paris.  Papers of the American Anthropological Association (A3PA).

In Press  Swenson, Edward R. and Craig Cipolla.  Representation and Materiality in Archaeology: A Semiotic Reconciliation. World Archaeology.

In Press  Chea Socheat, Julia Estève, Dominique Soutif, and Edward R. Swenson. Aśramas, Shrines, and Royal Power.  In The Angkorian World, edited by Damian Evans, Miriam Stark and Mitch Hendrickson.  London: Routledge Press.

2021  Swenson, Edward R.  “Diversity in North Coast Households: Rethinking the Politics of the Everyday.” In Ancient Households of the North Coast of Peru, edited by Ilana Johnson, David Pacifico, and Robyn Cutright, pp. 288-306.  Boulder: University of Colorado Press.

2021  Swenson, Edward R. The Semiotics of Stone in Andean and Khmer Political LandscapesWorld Archaeology, 1-24.

2021   Swenson, Edward R. and Stephen Berquist.  Highland-Coastal Relations and Transformations in Dualistic Political Ideologies in Middle Horizon JequetepequeŇawpa Pacha: The Journal of Andean Archaeology, 1-39.

2020  Swenson, Edward R.  “The Meaning within the Moche Mask.”  In Archaeological Interpretations: Symbolic Meaning within Andes Prehistory, edited by Peter Eeckhout, pp.180-212.  Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

2019    Swenson, Edward R. The Partible Neighborhoods of the Late Moche Period in the Jequetepeque Valley, Peru. In Neighborhoods in the Perspective of Anthropological Archaeology, edited by David Pacifico and Lise Truex. Papers of the American Anthropological Association (A3PA) Vol. 30, pp. 100-113.

2019  Swenson, Edward R. and Jorge Chiguala.  Relaciones entre espacio ritual y doméstico en sitios Moche del valle Jequetepeque, Perú.  Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Études Andines 47(2): 195-216.

2019  Spence-Morrow, Giles and Edward R. Swenson.  Moche Mereology: Synecdochal Ontologies at the Late Moche Site of Huaca Colorada, Peru. In Andean Ontologies: New Archaeological Perspectives, edited by María Cecilia Lozada and Henry Tantaleán, pp. 150-182. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

2018  Swenson, Edward R. and Justin Jennings  Introduction:  Andean Conceptions of Place, Landscape, and Power.  In Justin Jennings and Edward Swenson (Eds).  Powerful Places in the Ancient Andes, pp. 1-54  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

2018  Swenson, Edward R. Sacrificial Landscapes and the Anatomy of Moche Biopolitics: (AD 200-800).  In Justin Jennings and Edward Swenson (Eds).  Powerful Places in the Ancient Andes, pp. 247-286.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

2018  Swenson, Edward R.  Assembling the Moche: The Power of Temporary Gatherings on the North Coast of Peru.  World Archaeology 50(1):62-85.

2018  Swenson, Edward R.  Trace, Revelation, Interpretant in Archaeological Research: The Graffiti of Huaca Colorada, Peru.  Signs in Society 6(2): 349-378.

2018  Swenson, Edward R. and Andy Roddick.  Rethinking Temporality and Historicity from the Perspective of Andean Archaeology.  In Edward Swenson and Andy Roddick (Eds), pp. 3-44.  Constructions of Time and History in the Ancient Andes.  Boulder: University of Colorado Press.

2018  Swenson, Edward R.  Political Topologies of Time in the Ancient Andes.  In  Constructions of Time and History in the Ancient Andes, pp. 174-206. Boulder: University of Colorado Press.

2017  Swenson, Edward R. and Francisco Seoane.  La Organización Dualística del Centro Ceremonial de Tecapa.  In Actas de Congreso Nacional 2016.  La Prensa del Ministerio de Cultura, Lima, Perú.

2017  Swenson, Edward R.  Timing is Everything: Religion and the Regulation of Temporalities in the Ancient Andes.  In Religion and Politics in the Ancient Americas, edited by Arthur Joyce and Sarah Barber, pp. 210-233.  Routledge Press.

2017    Swenson, Edward R. and Francisco Seoane  La organización dualística del centro ceremonial de Tecapa. Actas de Congreso.  Actas de Congreso II Nacional de Arqueología, Lima Peru.

2016    Swenson, Edward R. and John Warner Landscapes of Mimesis and Convergence in the Southern Jequetepeque Valley, Peru. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 26(1): 23-51.

2015  Swenson, Edward R.  The Archaeology of Ritual.  Annual Reviews of Anthropology 44:329-45.

2015  Swenson, Edward R.  The Materialities of Place-Making in the Ancient Andes: A Critical Appraisal of the Ontological Turn in Archaeological Interpretation.  Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 22:667-712.

2015  Swenson, Edward R.  Archaeological Approaches to Sacred Landscapes and Rituals of Place-Making.  In The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices, and Politics.  Edited by Stanley D. Brunn, pp.  477-502.  New York: Springer.

2014  Swenson, Edward R.  Los Fundamentos Cosmológicos de las Interraciones Moche Sierra durante el Horizonte Medio en Jequetepque.  In Justin Jennings and Luis Jaime Castillo (Eds)  Los Rostros de Wari:Perspectivas Interregionales sobre el Horizonte Medio.  Lima: Fondo Editorial Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Boletín de Arqueología PUCP 16(2012): 79-104.

2014  Swenson, Edward R.  Chinchorro Mortuary Ritual and the Thesis Against ‘Hunter-Gatherer’ Religions.  In The Chinchorro Culture: A Comparative Perspective.  The Archaeology of the Earliest Human Mummification.  Edited by Nuria Sanz, Bernando T. Arriaza, and Vivien G. Standen, pp. 153-176.  Arica, Chile: UNESCO World Heritage Publication and the Universidad de Tarapacá.

2013  Swenson, Edward R.  Dramas of the Dialectic: Sacrifice and Power in Ancient Polities.  In Roderick Campbell (Ed) Violence and Civilization. Joukowsky Institute Publication 4, pp. 28-60.  Oxford: Oxbow Press. 

2013  Swenson, Edward R.  Interpreting the Political Landscape of Early State Religions. In Michael Lambek and Janice Boddy (Eds)  A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion, pp. 471-488.  London: Wiley-Blackwell. 

2012  Swenson, Edward R. Warfare, Gender, and Sacrifice in Jequetepeque Peru.  Latin American Antiquity 23(2): 167-193.

2012  Swenson, Edward R.  Moche Ceremonial Architecture as Third Space: The Politics of Place Making in Ancient Peru.  Journal of Social Archaeology 12(1): 3-28.

2012  Swenson, Edward R. and John Warner Crucibles of Power: Forging Copper and Forging Subjects at the Moche Ceremonial Center of Huaca Colorada, Peru.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 31(3): 314-333.

2011  Swenson, Edward R.  Stagecraft and the Politics of Spectacle in Ancient Peru.  Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21(2): 283-313.

2011  Swenson, Edward R. Feminine Powers, Ritual Warfare, and the Sacrificial Foundations of Contested Authority in Late Moche Jequetepeque, Peru. In Shawn Morton and Don Butler (Eds)  It’s Good to be King: The Archaeology of Power and Authority Proceedings of the 41st (2008). Annual Chacmool Archaeological Conference, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Calgary: University of Calgary Press, pp. 145-156. 

2011  Swenson, Edward R.  Architectural Renovation as Ritual Process in Late Intermediate Period Jequetepeque.  In Colleen Zori and Illana Johnson (Eds)  Advances in North Coast Archaeology: State and Empire in the Jequetepeque Valley.  Oxford: British Archaeological Reports International Series, 2310, pp. 129-148.

Administrative Service

Editorial board member, World Archaeology; Executive board member, Theoretical Archaeological Group, North America (TAG); Board Member of the Dirección de Gestión de la Investigación Vicerrectorado de PUCP (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú); Member, Institute of Andean Research

Graduate Students