David Webster

David Webster

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
David Webster

Curriculum Vitae


B.A., University of Minnesota, 1965
M.A., University of Minnesota, 1967
Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1972

Professional Bio

Professional Bio

Areas of Specialization:

Dr. Webster focuses on Mesoamerican, especially Lowland Maya, archaeology. He has had many field projects in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Research Activities and Interests:

Areas of topical interest include cultural evolution, particularly the origin of complex societies; cultural and political ecology; prehistoric warfare, settlement patterns, household archaeology, demographic reconstructions, and the origins of agriculture.  In 2000 Professor Webster completed four seasons of settlement surveys and household excavations around the Classic Maya site of Piedras Negras, in northwestern Guatemala, and in 2003 turned his attention again to examining archaeological evidence of ancient Maya warfare.

Webster, along with his late colleague William T. Sanders, served as academic directors of the Out of the Past video project, sponsored by the Annenberg/CPB Project and other funders.  This project, completed in 1993, was designed as a telecourse and its main component is a 8-part (8 hour) instructional television series.  This series, along with its associated textbook and ancillary course material, has been since widely used in classrooms and is repeatedly shown on television. Out of the Past is now continuously streamed on the internet, and may be freely accessed through the Annenberg/CPB website.

Recent Projects:

Professor Webster's most recent field project was Re-evaluation of the Earthworks at Tikal, Guatemala, funded by the National Science Foundation.  Fieldwork was completed in 2006.  Initial results of the project as of 2003 are reported in Webster et. al. The Tikal Earthworks Revisited, Occasional Paper in Anthropology No. 28, Dept. of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University (this monograph can be ordered directly from the Anthropology Department.  A second phase of the project, also supported by NSF, was completed in 2006 and is reported in:

Webster, David, Tim Murtha, Jay Silverstein, Horacio Martinez, Richard Terry, Richard Burnett. The Tikal Earthworks Revisited.  Journal of Field Archaeology 32 (1): 41-64 (2007).

Most recently Webster has returned to his early interest in agricultural origins.  His article Backward Bottlenecks: Ancient Teosinte/Maize Selection will soon be published in Current Anthropology.


As a graduate student Webster worked in several parts of the world, including Turkey and Yugoslavia.  One of his early interests was the origins of agriculture, and he spent two field seasons in Turkey working at the Neolihic site of Cayonu with Robert Braidwood.  Webster later turned his attention to Mesoamerica and ancient warfare. His PhD fieldwork centered on the great Preclassic earthwork system at Becan, Campeche, Mexico.   Between 1980 and 1997 he participated in many seasons of fieldwork  in the Copan Valley of Honduras, where he and his students carried out settlement surveys and large-scale excavations of both commoner and elite household remains.  He continued this kind of research between 1997 and 2000 at Piedras Negras, Guatemala, and most recently returned to one of his early interests – warfare – when supervised an NSF field project at Tikal, Guatemala, between 2003-2006.

Courses Taught:

  • ANTH 008 Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas (Syllabus)
  • ANTH 009 Rise of Civilization in the Old World
  • ANTH 321W Intellectual Background of Archaeology
  • ANTH 422 Meso-American Archaeology and Ethnography (Syllabus)
  • ANTH 545 Archaeology Seminar

Recent Publications:

Two recent papers of 2018
  • David L. Webster.  (2014, January). The Population of Tikal and its Implications for Classic Maya Demography. Background paper prepared for the symposium "Tikal and its Neighbors."  Meetings of the Mesoamerica Center. Antigua, Guatemala.
  • Susan Toby Evans and David L. Webster (editors). 2010. Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia.2nd edition. Routledge Publishing, New York.
  • David L. Webster and Susan Toby Evans. 2009.--Mesoamerican Civilization. In The Human Past: World Prehistory & the Development of Human Societies (second edition), edited by Chris Scarre, pp. 594-639. Thames and Hudson, New York and London.
  • Webster, David, Jay Silverstein, Timothy Murtha, Horacio Martinez, and Kirk Straight.---The Tikal Earthworks Revisited.  Occasional Paper in Anthropolology No. 28, Dept. of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University (2004), University Park.
  • Webster, David, AnnCorinne Freter and Rebecca Storey--Dating Copan Culture History: Implications for the Terminal Classic and the Collapse.  In The Terminal Classic in the Maya Lowlands, A. Demarest, P. Rice, and D. Rice, eds., University Press of Colorado, Boulder (2004) pp. 231-259.
  • Webster, David and Stephen Houston--Piedras Negras: The Growth and Decline of a Classic Maya Court Center.  In Urbanism in Mesoamerica, W. T. Sanders, A, G, Mastache and R. H. Cobean, eds.  Joint publication of the Instituto Nacional de Anthroplogia e Historia and The Pennsylvania State University (2003), pp. 427-450.
  • Webster, David L.--Groundhogs and kings: Issues of divine rulership among the Classic Maya.  In Incidents of Archaeology in Central America and Yucatan:  Essays in Honor of Edwin M. Shook, edited by Michael Love, Marion Popenoe de Hatch, and Hector L. Escobedo.  University Press of America, Inc., Lanham. (2002).
  • Webster, David--The Fall of the Ancient Maya. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London (2002).
  • Susan T. Evans and David Webster, eds. Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica and Central America. Routledge, New York (2001)
  • Webster, David, Anncorinne Freter, and Nancy Gonlin--Copan: The Rise and Fall of a Classic Maya Kingdom.  Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth (2000).

    Abstract: This book presents a summary of more than a century of work at the Classic Maya Copan kingdom.  It reviews the findings of many different projects, but particularly focuses on regional settlement reconstruction, demography, and agricultural history as revealed by a series of Penn State or Penn State related projects that began in 1980.  There is a strong emphasis on research design and methodology, with much specific information on political history and processes, isotopic studies of paleonutrition, paleodemographic reconstructions, palynology, household archaeology, the application and implications of AMS radiocarbon and obsidian hydration methods, warfare, trade and exchange, and the Maya collapse.

  • Webster, David, AnnCorinne Freter and nancy Gonlin - Copan: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Maya Center. Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth (2000)
  • Webster, David - Ancient Maya Warfare.  In War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds, Kurt Raaflaub and Nathan Rosenstien eds., Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1999), pp. 333-360.

    Abstract: This paper reviews what we know, or can reasonably reconstruct, concerning ancient Maya warfare.  The emphasis is on the Classic Maya, but the Postclassic Maya are also discussed.  Warfare is examined within the larger contexts of Maya society, environment, technology, and political structure, and comparisons are made with warfare as manifested by other ancient civilizations, many of them reviewed in other articles in this volume.

  • Webster, David - The Archaeology of Copan, Honduras.  Journal of Archaeological Research 7:11:1-53 (1999).

    Abstract: Copan has one of the longest research histories of any Classic Maya center.  This overview article summarizes this research, including environmental setting, dynastic history and settlement history, paleodemography, paleopathology, political organization, trade, warfare, and the Classic Maya collapse.

  • Webster, David - Status Rivalry Warfare: Some Maya - Polynesian Comparisons.  In Archaic States,  Gary Feinman and Joyce Marcus eds., School  of American Research, Santa Fe (1998), pp. 311-352.

    Abstract: This paper investigates the the conduct of Classic Maya warfare with overt comparisons to better documented traditions of Polynesian war.  Issues include military tactics and strategy, fortifications, and the relationship between warfare and ritual, political economy.  Central to the argument is that much warfare was caused by status rivalry among kings and nobles, who as agents or factions used war to pursue their political ends;

  • Webster, David, Barbara Fash, Randolph Widmer, and Scott Zeleznik - The Skyband Group.  Journal of Field Archaeology 25:3:318-344 (1988).

    Abstract: The Skyband Group is a major Classic Maya elite residence at Copan, Honduras, excavated   in 1990. It is notable for its complex facade sculpture, particularly a skyband throne or bench. The site was occupied after the political collapse at Copan, and its excavation demonstrates the methodology of elite household excavations.