Sarah Baitzel's research focuses on how humans in ancient complex societies shaped and transformed their lifeways, bodies, and identities through interactions with their social and natural surroundings.
Baitzel's interest in the interplay of identity and ritual has caused her to focus on the meaning of mortuary ritual in early Andean state society, specifically how communities living on the periphery of the Tiwanaku state (A.D. 500–1000, south-central Andes) engaged with burial and ancestor veneration practices to recreate social boundaries and memories. Her methodological interests and approaches to these questions include mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology, as well as the analyses of textile and ceramic artifacts.
She is currently starting a new interdisciplinary research project in the coastal valley of Sama (Southern Peru) that explores social identity formation and interaction patterns on the margins of expansive Andean states, including the Tiwanaku and Inca. The Sama Valley presents an intriguing location to investigate how groups with distinct cultural and economic traditions (coastal, lowland and highland agricultural, and pastoral) interacted in this hyperarid-desert oasis.
Although her fieldwork has mostly focused on the southern Andes, she has conducted mortuary excavations on the North Coast of Peru, excavated monumental architecture in the southern Peruvian highlands.