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Northern Arizona University is a research-intensive university. Find out what other research is being conducted across campus.
Learn about the variety of anthropology related projects anthropology faculty and students are participating in.
Projects and Research
Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project Accordion Closed
The Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project (BVAR) has been conducting archaeological investigation in western Belize since 1988. The research interests of this NAU-based interdisciplinary project include questions relating to the rise of Maya civilization in western Belize, the application of Lidar survey and archaeological data for understanding the settlement systems and dynamic political landscape of the Belize River Valley, the role of caves in Maya culture, ancient Maya responses to climate change, and the decline of elite political organization during the 10th century A.D. In its effort to address these multi-faceted questions, the project applies a regional approach to its investigations, conducting research at the ancient Maya sites of Baking Pot, Cahal Pech, Lower Dover and Xunantunich. These sites are among the largest prehistoric Maya cities in the upper Belize River Valley and served as the capitals to petty kingdoms in the Classic period (c. A.D. 250-900). As part of its research activities, the BVAR project also operates an annual Field Methods in Archaeology course for undergraduates, and provides thesis research opportunities for Masters students in the graduate program at NAU.
Colorado Plateau Agricultural Origins Project Accordion Closed
The Colorado Plateau Agricultural Origins Project, directed by Dr. Francis Smiley, is in its tenth year of archaeological investigations in the Butler Wash area of southeastern Utah.
The project investigates the origins of agriculture and the development of tribal societies in the northern Southwest. The project has trained numerous undergraduate and graduate students in field archaeology and operates under the auspices of the US Bureau of Land Management out of Monticello, UT.
Cerro Jazmin Archaeological Project Accordion Closed
The Cerro Jazmin Archaeological Project integrates archaeological and geomorphological methods to map and study the site of Cerro Jazmin, a top-tier Pre-Hispanic urban center that was inhabited between 300 B.C. and A.D. 1400. The project, which takes place in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, Mexico seeks to expand our understanding of urbanism and how Pre-Hispanic urban centers functioned and impacted their surrounding landscape.
Hopi Iconography Project Accordion Closed
At the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA), Dr. Kelley Hays-Gilpin directs the Hopi Iconography Project, a collaboration between the museum and the Hopi Tribe’s cultural preservation office.
The research is exploring Hopi cultural continuity through pottery, rock art, mural painting, and fiber perishables, including baskets and textiles.
Archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, and art historians are working together with Hopi artists, language specialists, archaeologists, and other cultural specialists to study nearly two thousand years of Hopi history, values, aesthetics, technology, subsistence, and artistic expression.
Archaeologists usually study the past for its own sake, but this project is trying to understand the meanings of the past in the present, and how distinctively Hopi ways of thinking about ecology, health, and community values have been expressed in material culture over centuries if not millennia.
Most important, the research needs to explore ways that Hopi traditions can help shape a sustainable future for Hopi communities and beyond, through subsistence farming, craft production, public health programs, and cultural revitalization.
In some ways, it’s more important to Hays-Gilpin that ancient objects do have significance for contemporary indigenous people, and less important what the exact meanings of ancient symbols are—so it’s less about reading the past like a text, and more about having a conversation in the present about ancestors, sacred places, and making aesthetic and emotional connections between past and present.
It’s about being able to hear messages from the past that help us live better lives today—whether it’s how to grow food in the desert, how to have a healthy diabetes-resistant diet, how to deal with drought, how to continue one’s cultural heritage in new art forms, or how to help outsiders understand and appreciate one’s art heritage.
Thus far, Dr. Hays-Gilpin’s research with project has resulted in four scholarly articles and book chapters and two issues of MNA’s Plateau magazine.
Joann Kealiinohomoku Historic Flagstaff Home Project Accordion Closed
At her home located north of campus, former NAU ethnomusicologist Joann Kealiinohomoku collected historic artifacts from her backyard and donated them to the Anthropology Department upon her retirement. Mostly dating to the 1940s and 1950s, the artifacts reveal evidence of architectural renovations, foodways, consumption, domesticity, and childhood in WWII-era Flagstaff. The project is conducted by Dr. Emily Dale in the Historical Archaeology Lab with the assistance of graduate and undergraduate student volunteers.
Southwest Pottery Traditions Accordion Closed
Dr. Kelley Hays-Gilpin directs traditional archaeological research on pottery traditions in the northern Southwest, in collaboration with our national parks, forests, and other agencies, tribes, and museums.
Graduate student service projects that she has directed include a web-based field identification manual for Pueblo IV period decorated pottery from the Agua Fria National Monument, and analysis of Cohonina pottery from sites excavated near Sitgreaves Mountain by joint MNA-NAU field schools.
Her graduate students are presently preparing a field identification manual, type collection, and additional analysis of pottery from the area north and west of the Colorado River (sometimes called “Virgin Anasazi” or the “Arizona Strip” region). She has authored pottery identification manuals and compiled type collections for Wupatki National Monument, Petrified Forest National Park, and the Navajo Nation’s Chambers-Sanders Trust Lands.
Collectively, her experience with pottery from a wide geographic range and many time periods results in deep understanding of pottery production, distribution, chronology, and cultural affiliation across the northern Southwest/southern Colorado Plateau.
St. Michael’s Mission Outhouse Collection Project Accordion Closed
In the 1970s, NAU archaeology students excavated an outhouse at the turn-of-the-century St. Michael’s Mission in Window Rock, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. The results of the excavation, unfortunately, were not formally written up. The current St. Michael’s Mission Outhouse Collection Project incorporates ethnographic methods with archaeological/collections-based research to learn more about the role of the mission in the past and present. From a socio-cultural anthropological perspective, the project aims to conduct interviews with the participants of the original excavations to fill in the gaps due to the lack of paperwork, and to interview Navajo stakeholders about the role of the mission in the past and the present to provide indigenous context for the artifacts. Archaeologically, the project aims to investigate the roles of refuse disposal, religion, gender, and other cultural aspects in the creation of the assemblage. The project is conducted by Dr. Emily Dale in the Historical Archaeology Lab with the assistance of graduate and undergraduate student volunteers.
Terevaka Archaeological Outreach Program (TAO) Accordion Closed
The TAO program began in 2003 on Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) as a grassroots approach to education, conservation, and research on the island. Island high school students, along with interns from the U.S., have now completed projects in archaeological survey, surface mapping, lichenometry, documentary filmmaking, photogrammetry, toponymy, ghost stories, and archival museum studies. The program has three primary purposes:
- To offer experiential learning opportunities specific to cultural and natural resources that surround the local community;
- To promote awareness and expertise in conservation measures and sustainable development; and
- To document and study both cultural phenomena of the past and today.
Dr. Britton Shepardson (principal investigator and founder/director) is an archaeologist specializing in educational outreach, heritage management, geographic information systems, quantitative research, and emergent complexity. The project includes both volunteer and for-credit opportunities for undergraduate students as well as graduate students.