Sponsored by: AIA Denver Society
The Neolithic Revolution refers to what may be the most important transformation in human history: the shift from hunting and gathering to domesticated food production. The southwestern United States—especially the Mesa Verde region of southwestern Colorado—is one of the best documented cases in the world of the expansion of this new Neolithic life way.
Four thousand years ago maize (corn) farming was introduced into the region, and this marks the beginning of one of the world’s most innovative and resilient cultures: Pueblo Indian society. The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center has conducted research into the deep history of Pueblo peoples since its founding in 1983.
Varien will discuss the Center’s research, including the most recent projects: the Village Ecodynamics Project; the Basketmaker Communities Project; and the Northern Chaco Outliers Project, Crow Canyon’s current project. These innovative studies use a combination of computer simulation, and archaeological excavation, and laboratory analysis to reconstruct thousands of years of Pueblo Indian history.
This research illustrates how the Neolithic Revolution played out in the Four Corners region. One consequence of the Neolithic Revolution is a period of exponential population growth accompanied by unprecedented rates of culture change, circumstances that also describe the world we live in today. Also like today, Pueblo people also had to respond to climate change. The research presented shows how Pueblo people’s response to climate change transformed their lives and their society.
This transformation includes the complete depopulation of the Mesa Verde region at the end of the thirteenth century and the subsequent concentration of settlement into areas of New Mexico and Arizona that continue to be occupied by Pueblo people to this day. This new research clarifies why the Mesa Verde region was depopulated and how this dramatic event shaped the development of the modern-day Pueblo world. These projects provide new insights into the Pueblo history and show how the lessons learned from Pueblo past are relevant to the world we live in today.
Mark Varien currently serves as the Executive Vice President of the Research Institute at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado. In this position he seeks to further Crow Canyon’s three-part mission: to increase knowledge of the human experience through archaeological research, to conduct that research in the context of public education programs, and to partner with American Indians on the design and delivery of those research and education programs.
Formed as a new initiative in 2014, the Crow Canyon Research Institute seeks to create an institution without walls—a network of archaeologists, other social scientists, native scholars, and educators—that will conduct archaeology in the public interest and improve our understanding of the human experience for the betterment of society.
Mark received his B. A. in Archaeological Studies (1976) and M. A. in Anthropology (1984) from the University of Texas at Austin. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Arizona State University (1997). Mark’s Ph.D. dissertation was awarded the Society of American Archaeology’s 1998 Best Dissertation Award.
Mark joined the staff at Crow Canyon in 1987. Prior to his current position he served Crow Canyon as a research archaeologist (1987-1997), director of research (1997-2007), vice president of programs (2007–2010), and Research and Education Chair (2010–2014). His first book, Sedentism and Mobility in a Social Landscape, was published in 1999 by the University of Arizona Press. Since then, he has published numerous other books as edited volumes, including Seeking the Center Place: Archaeology and Ancient Communities in the Mesa Verde Region (2002, University of Utah Press), The Social Construction of Communities: Agency, Structure, and Identity in the Prehispanic Southwest (2008, AltaMira Press), Leaving Mesa Verde: Peril and Change in the Thirteenth Century Southwest (2010), and Emergence and Collapse of Early Villages: Models of Central Mesa Verde Region Archaeology (2012, University of California Press). He has also published articles many scientific, peer-reviewed journals, including American Antiquity, Kiva, Ancient Mesoamerica, and World Archaeology, and he has published works for the interested public, including a contribution to The Mesa Verde World and articles in Scientific American and American Scientist. His research has been featured in articles in the popular journals American Archaeology and Nature.
Mark’s research interests include household and community organization, migration studies, the formation of cultural landscapes, human impact on the environment, the human response to climate change, archaeology and public education, and American Indian involvement in archaeology.