Matt was born and raised in southern California, the son of a first-generation Mexican father and immigrant Cuban mother. In high school, Matt dabbled in TV and film production. He even planned to go to film school; but his acceptance into Stanford University led to other paths. As a sophomore, he took courses in archaeology and human osteology, the scientific study of bones. During a lecture in Introduction to Archaeology, his professor showed the class an animated 3D model of Chavín de Huántar, a three-thousand-year-old ceremonial center in highland Peru. Matt was enthralled. The following summer he had the opportunity to participate in archaeological excavations at Chavín and explore firsthand the site’s scenic landscape, monumental architecture, and labyrinthine passageways and crypts. In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he had taken his first step into a larger world.
Since that formative experience in 2006, Matt has continually returned to Peru. As a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, he gained valuable field and laboratory experience on a number of other projects, and finally, in 2012, directed his dissertation fieldwork at two cemetery sites in the Colca Valley of Peru. Proyecto Bio-arqueológico Coporaque aims to elucidate the biocultural history of the Collaguas ethnic group, which dwelled in the central Colca Valley during the era preceding and encompassing Inka imperial expansion in the 15th century. As an anthropological bioarchaeologist, Matt studies the skeletal remains of these ancient people to reconstruct how they lived and died; what their childhood was like; what they ate; if they suffered from malnutrition, violence, or disease; how they were treated by others in life; and how they were remembered after death.
Although his research focuses on the ancient dead, it is his engagement and relationship with the living community of Coporaque, the descendants of the Collaguas, that forms the focus of his forthcoming chapter – a retrospective on the tensions, negotiations, meanings, and possibilities surrounding the study of human skeletal remains in Peru.
Matt Velasco is an incoming Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University. He lives in Brooktondale, NY with his partner Briana, a public interest lawyer; their dog Jack, a black-and-white Boxer mix who loves peanut butter; and their hyperactive cat Tweet, who was adopted from the high-altitude environs of Coporaque.