LAS 307 “Indigenous American Urbanism” | Student Spring Recess Field Trip

April 13, 2022

Over spring recess, students in the PLAS course “Indigenous American Urbanism: Teotihuacan and its Legacy in Comparative Perspective” (LAS 307) traveled to the areas known in settler-colonialist parlance as “New Mexico” and “Arizona.”  On this trip, students visited a dozen archaeological sites built by a number of pre-contact Indigenous American groups, including the Ancestral Puebloan (also known as Anasazi), Sinagua, Mogollon, and Hohokam cultures. 

Among the highlights of the trip were visits to Chaco Canyon, Betatakin, and the “Grand Canyon.”  Chaco Canyon, among the most impressive archaeological sites of North America, is the location of a dozen known Great Houses, large multi-story room complexes incorporating large plazas and subterranean Great Kivas that were built between 900-1200 CE.  Students viewed Pueblo Bonito, the largest and oldest of the Great Houses, as well as its neighbor, Chetro Ketl, which is located only a few hundred feet away across a large open area that was perhaps used in ancient times as an amphitheater.  On site, they studied the intricate mosaic stone work of the Great House walls, the forms of Great Kivas, and details of building construction processes that are rarely mentioned in publications.  Additionally, students considered the unique setting of Chaco Canyon, a dramatic valley floor surrounded by mesas. 

Course participants also viewed Betatakin, an exceptionally well-preserved cliff dwelling, from an overlook point located in Navajo National Park.  Inhabited between 1269 and 1300 CE, archaeologists believe that it may have housed a number of migrants from Chaco Canyon after that site was no longer actively populated after around 1200 CE.  Situated inside a natural cavern of a canyon face, the building complex, which incorporates more than 100 rooms, retains architectural details like adobe mud facing, as well as wooden beams and ladders, which survive due to the arid climate and the sheltering properties of the cavern by which the construction is enveloped.  Students discussed the ingenuity of the structure’s design and considered how climate change may have factored into Indigenous American choices of settlement locale. 

Course members additionally visited the “Grand Canyon,” which is called Tsékooh Hatsoh in Navajo and Öngtupqa in Hopi, among other Native American names used by these and other groups.  Here, course participants discussed issues of land possession, Indigenous sovereignty, and how aspects of sacred landscapes continue to play prominent roles in Native oral histories.

Taught by Trent Barnes, a PLAS Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer, LAS 307 considers the urban and architectural histories of the pre-contact Indigenous Americas.  Drawing upon approaches from art history and archaeological anthropology, this course allows students the opportunity to immerse themselves in recent developments in the study of Teotihuacan, Mexico, the largest city of American antiquity.  The second half of the course considers how the Teotihuacan lifeway compared with architectural and settlement patterns that emerged throughout the broader American continent, with class sessions focusing on Tikal, Guatemala; Copan, Honduras; Cahokia, Illinois; and Cusco, Peru. 

Rebecca Aguas, PLAS Program Manager, and Damaris Zayas, PLAS Program Coordinator, accompanied the class as chaperones, helping with everything from grocery shopping to travel arrangements. 

LAS 307 Break Trip