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 Tuesday, May 23, 2006 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Professors Delve into Ancient History of Southwest
By Jon Leslie, Publications and Creative Services

A unique field school led by anthropology professors Catherine Cameron and Steve Lekson has provided CU-Boulder undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to explore the expansion and decline of the 10th to 12th century Chacoan regional system in the American southwest (see map).

"Chaco Canyon was an amazing place about a thousand years ago," said Cameron, "with huge stone buildings, elaborate underground structures and all kinds of wonderful architecture, including a prehistoric road system that led out into the outlying region and similar buildings throughout the northern southwest."

The field school, part of Cameron and Lekson's ongoing research into ancestral Puebloan society, has enabled students to play a significant role in excavations of the Bluff Great House in Utah and additional sites in Utah and New Mexico by splitting them into groups and exchanging field experiences halfway through the season.

"We decided that it would be very cool to give students both experiences, rather than having Steve take a batch and I take a batch," said Cameron. "So we divided the group in two, and then in the middle of the season we would meet in Chaco Canyon and switch students. This way the students get an introduction to archaeology up on the plateau and then down where Steve works, on the border of two ancient cultures—the Mogollon and the ancestral Pueblo."

One of the central topics being explored by Cameron and Lekson is the connection between the sites in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico—considered the center of the Chacoan system that peaked between 1000 and 1150 AD—and sites such as the Bluff Great House that continued to be occupied for 100 years after the Chacoan decline. Scholars are currently divided as to the level of integration between the sites and the reasons for their decline, leaving many open questions as excavations continue throughout the region.

"The question, and this is where scholars differ somewhat violently, is the level of control that Chaco held over this large region," said Cameron. "Papers are being written, books are being published and people are waving hands at meetings and arguing one way or another."

With a recently published book edited by Lekson exploring the differing theories of Chacoan control and Cameron's report on the Bluff Great House expected to come out later this year, the two professors continue to search for answers, with current excavations in west-central New Mexico and—through a Bureau of Land Management grant administered by the university—in the Comb Wash area of Utah, about 20 miles north of the Bluff Great House.

"The Comb Wash project is ongoing to this day," said Cameron, "and the site density is amazing. We've got some CU students that are volunteering there this summer, and they will likely be using Comb Wash for theses and dissertations."

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