William L. Fash

William L. Fash

Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and Ethnology
William L. Fash

Research and Teaching Interests

Cultural process, settlement pattern analysis, symbolism and archaeological conservation, Mesoamerica.

William Fash worked on archaeological digs in Arizona and in Central Mexico while obtaining his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Illinois (1976). In his first year in graduate school at Harvard University he joined Gordon R. Willey’s archaeological project in Copán, Honduras, Central America in 1977. He and Barbara have been working at Copán ever since, in a series of multi-institutional, multi-national, and interdisciplinary research efforts devoted to illuminating all aspects of ancient Maya lifeways and culture history at one of its most renowned ancient cities. They created the Copan Mosaics Project in 1985, and subsequently spearheaded efforts to conceive, design, and construct the Sculpture Museum in Copán which showcases the magnificent cultural heritage from this site. This museum has proved important to local pride and understanding, and to the cultural heritage of Honduras and Mesoamerica as a whole.

For his efforts he was awarded the Order of José Cecilio del Valle by the President of Honduras in 1994, and selected to succeed his mentor, Gordon Willey, as Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and History at Harvard University in that same year. He served as Chair of Harvard’s Department of Anthropology from 1998 – 2004, and as Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 2004 – 2011. From 2000 – 2003 he conducted archaeological excavations at the Xalla Compound in Teotihuacan, Mexico, with his colleagues Leonardo López Luján and Linda Manzanilla. In March 2017, he was elected as a corresponding fellow of the Academia Mexicana de la Historia. He is the author of Scribes, Warriors, and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya (1991, rev. ed. 2001), History Carved in Stone (1992, with Ricardo Agurcia), Copán: The History of an Ancient Maya Kingdom (2005, with E. Wyllys Andrews), The Ancient American World (2005, with Mary Lyons), Gordon R. Willey and American Archaeology: Contemporary Perspectives (2007, co-editor with Jeremy Sabloff), and The Art of Urbanism: How Mesoamerican Kingdoms Represented Themselves in Architecture and Imagery (2009, co-edited with Leonardo López Luján).

In 2008 William and Barbara were awarded the Hoja de Laurel de Oro, a lifetime achievement award, conferred by the Minister of Culture and the Arts, and the Office of the President of the Republic, recognizing (at that time) 30-plus years of service in preserving and documenting Honduras’ cultural heritage. In 2013 they were awarded an Extraordinary Recognition by the IHAH of Honduras for their work in local heritage education and training and the new social model for archaeology they pioneered at the site of Rastrojón (Group 6N-2) in the Copan Valley. In 2015 they were each awarded the Order of the Mat ("Orden del POP"), by the Popol Vuh Museum and the Universidad Francisco Marroquín of Guatemala City for their contributions to Maya archaeology, art, conservation, and heritage management.

From 2015-2020 William served as Co-Director of the Plaza of the Columns Complex Project in Teotihuacan, Mexico, which uncovered evidence of an Early Classic Maya presence in that large ceremonial and residential complex situated across the Avenue of the Dead from the Sun Pyramid Complex. The painted mural fragments recovered there with his current students and former student Nawa Sugiyama (now at U-C Riverside) have provided a new narrative for Maya-Teotihuacan relations that continues to be widely discussed in Mesoamerican archaeology.

Professor Fash has served as Department Chair (1998-2004), Howells Director of the Peabody Museum (2004-2011), and twice as Director of the Archaeology Program within the Department of Anthropology. This fall he will be a Visiting Scholar of Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C.

Contact Information

Peabody Museum 24-2
11 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: (617) 496-0433