• Terry L. Jones & Terry L. Jonesa, Al W. Schwitallab, Marin A. Pilloudc, John R. Johnsond, Richard R. Paine, Brian F. Coddinge (2021). Post-Columbian Epidemics in Native North America: Historic and Bioarchaeological Evidence from California. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. Accepted, 03/17/2021.
  • Richard R. Paine (2017). Paleodemography. SAS Encyclopedia of Archaeological Science. New York: John Wiley & Sons.. Accepted, 10/19/2017.
  • Richard R. Paine (2017). Demography, Prehistoric, Human. The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. New York: John Wiley & Sons.. Accepted, 06/01/2017.
  • CA* Comment: Drought and Its Demographic Effects in the Maya Lowlands, Julie A. Hoggarth, Matthew Restall, James W. Wood, and Douglas J. Kennett. Current Anthropology 2017 58:1. Published, 02/01/2017.
  • Paine, R.R. and G.R. Storey 2010 Dynamics of Disease in Rome: From the Epidemics of Livy to the Antonine Plague. In: L'impatto della peste antonina, Incontri capresi di storia dell' economia antica Series, edited by Elio Lo Cascio, Bari, Rome. Published, 01/01/2013.

Research Statement

My primary research focus is the relationship between people and their environments across time.  I study both how humans have impacted their environments and the return effects for people, especially as they are expressed through ancient disease patterns. On the human impact on environments side, I am pursuing arcaheological fieldwork in the Peten, Guatemala, as part of the Mirador Basin Archaeological Project, directed by Richard Hansen.  Andrea Brunelle (Geography) and I are examining the interaction of population growth and land use, and the changing ecology of the enormous Preclassic Maya center.  For many years, I have also been exploring the impact of cycles of epidemic disease on human demography and life history in the Holocene (e.g Paine 2000; Bentley et al. 2002; Paine and Boldsen 2002, 2006; Paine and Storey 2005, 2006, in press).  This effort has two goals: first, to examine the specific question of epidemic disease impact on Holocene demography and life histories, and second, to use this specific problem to elucidate and address general problems in the field of paleodemography. 

In May 2016, Andrea Brunelle (Geography) and I received a SEED Grant for fieldwork at El Mirador.  El Mirador is a massive Preclassic Maya center in northern Guatemala.  The site was the political center of the Maya region in the late Preclassic before it collapsed around 1850 BP.  Why El Mirador collapsed as Classic centers, like Tikal, grew and flourished, is a critical question in the study of New World complex societies.  Hypotheses focus on: 1) population growth and the destruction of agricultural systems; and, 2) conspicuous consumption of lime plaster for elite construction.  Our research strategy combines of LiDAR imagery, GIS, settlement archaeology, and palynology.  We use the geographical data to develop an algorithm to identify residential sites, which will be compared to GIS data from archaeological surveys to create a sampling strategy for excavation and paleoecological cores.  The results of the field sampling and analyses will be used develop a research program to answer the questions above.

I am currently working on two projects focused on the impact of ancient disease.  The first is based on the ‘Historical Perspectives on Human Demography’ database.  Using demographic projections to test hypotheses about increasing frequency of epidemic events over time, I have developed a series a theories about the changing shape of child mortality and its impact on child reproductive value and selective pressure on age-at-first-reproduction.  These theories may contribute to our understanding of the 19th century demographic transition in Europe.  I am currently writing a pair of papers outlining them.  The next step is to test my initial hypotheses about epidemic frequency and childhood disease using ancient DNA analysis. O’Rourke and I will submit a series grant proposals to accomplish this.  We will begin our analyses on skeletal samples from a pair of Medieval Danish cemeteries I have obtained, with permission to perform the aDNA analyses, from the University of Southern Denmark. 

The second project tests a theory of a late Classic disease outbreak at Teotihuacan.   At its height, between 350-500 CE, Teotihuacan was by far the largest, most important city in Mesoamerica.  Between the late 6th century and the early 7th century, the city’s population fell dramatically and dispersed into enclaves or on the periphery of Teotihuacan’s abandoned ceremonial center. Theories to explain Teotihuacan’s decline have proven difficult to test archaeologically.  One factor that has received little attention, historically, is the possible role of epidemic disease, which most archaeologists and historians have considered a strictly post-Contact phenomenon. Recently, Acuna-Soto and colleagues proposed that epidemics in 1545-48 and 1576-80, which 16th century records refer to as the Huey Cocoliztli, were caused by a hemorrhagic fever of New World origin. They argue further, based on reconstructed drought patterns, that the same disease may have precipitated the decline of Classic period Teotihuacan.

I provided an initial test of the Cocolitzli hypothesis (Paine 2010, in prep) by generating death distributions for a large-scale outbreak using demographic projections, similar to the ones I am using in the European epidemic frequency study above.  I compared the model death distributions to early and late phase skeletal age-at-death distributions from the Tlajinga 33 apartment compound at Teotihuacan.  The early phase distribution resembled the death distribution of a stable projection.  The late phase distribution is dramatically closer to the death distribution of the epidemic model, though it is still statistically distinct.  Rather than refuting the Cocoliztli hypothesis, my work seems to support it.  This study indicates that additional testing of the Cocoliztli hypothesis is warranted. 

Research Keywords

  • paleodemography
  • life history evolution
  • ancient epidemic disease
  • Mesoamerica
  • Maya
  • Europe
  • El Mirador


  • Paine, Richard R., Kevin Johnston, Enrique Hernandez and Richard D. Hansen 2021 Hidden Structures at El Mirador: Challenges and Prospects, IN: Recent Multidisciplinary Investigations in the Mirador Basin, Guatemala (Sponsored by Foundation for Anthropological Research & Environmental Studies [FARES]), 86th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology Online. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 04/15/2021.
  • Paine, Richard R., Kevin Johnston, Enrique Hernandez and Richard D. Hansen, Hidden Structures at El Mirador: Challenges and Prospects, IN Recent Multidisciplinary Investigations in the Mirador Basin, Guatemala (Sponsored by Foundation for Anthropological Research & Environmental Studies [FARES]), 86th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology Online. Conference Paper, Refereed, Accepted, 11/01/2020.
  • Drought, Disease and the Late Classic Decline of Teotihuacan: a Paleodemographic Test of the Cocoliztli Hypothesis. 53rd Annual Conference, Southwest Council for Latin American Studies: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Conference Paper, Refereed, Accepted, 12/06/2018.
  • Paine, R.R., Using Ground Penetrating RADAR to Estimate Invisible Structure at El Mirador. 84th Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology: Albuquerque, NM. Conference Paper, Refereed, Accepted, 11/07/2018.
  • Paine, R.R., K. Johnston, and R. D. Hansen. Issues in Reconstructing the Ancient Population of El Mirador, Guatemala. 83rd Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 04/12/2018.
  • Paine, R.R., and J.L. Boldsen 2017 Reproductive Value across the Holocene: 8,000 years of transitions. IN: Bioarchaeology of Transition: Health and Changing Environments. 86th Annual Meeting, American Association of Physical Anthropology: New Orleans, LA. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 04/20/2017.
  • Classic Maya Collapse(s): a Demographic Perspective. 81st Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, FL. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 04/07/2016.
  • Paine, R.R. 2014 Epidemic Frequency and Child Reproductive Value in the Holocene. 83rd Annual Meeting, American Association of Physical Anthropologists: Calgary. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 04/10/2014.
  • Paine, R.R 2012 Reconstructing Late Classic Land Control at Copan, Honduras: a Demographic Test. 77th Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology: Memphis, TN. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 04/22/2012.
  • Paine, R.R 2011 Disease Outbreaks and the Classic Period Decline of Teotihuacan: Testing the Cocoliztli Hypothesis. 76th Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology: Sacramento, CA. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 03/31/2011.
  • Paine, R.R. Using Demographic Models to Test Archaeological Hypotheses: Two Examples from the Classic. IN: Paleodemography: Advances and New Trends in Agricultural Population in Mesoamerica, 75th Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology: St. Louis, MO. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 04/2010.

Geographical Regions of Interest

  • Costa Rica
  • Denmark
    Long-term collaboration with Jesper Boldsen, University of Southern Denmark, studying ancient demography and life history.
  • Guatemala
    Archaeological research at Preclassic Maya City of El Mirador. In collaboration with Mirador Basin Archaeological Project, directed by Richard Hansen.
  • Honduras
    Excavations at Copan, and in Ulua Valley.
  • Turkey
    Excavations at Kenan Tepe a tel site along the Tigris River in southeastern Turkey, in collaboration with Dr. Bradley Parker, History.