Alumnus archaeologist digs into origins of Pueblo society
Some ASU students may believe they have to travel thousands of miles from our arid desert landscape to experience ancient culture. However, alumnus Mark Varien has been at work in Colorado's Mesa Verde region for more than 30 years, proving them wrong.
Varien received his doctorate in anthropology from ASU’s Department of Anthropology (now the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) in 1997. Currently, he is the research and education chair at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, where he is helping discover new things about ancient Pueblo society, as well as how those discoveries relate to today’s world.
Varien believes that the origins of the Pueblo Indians can more broadly explain the genesis of modern civilization. Recently, Vail Daily took a look at the center’s latest initiative, the “Basketmakers Communities Project,” which is a mass excavation spanning several sites across the Mesa Verde region. These sites all date back to a period known as the Basketmaker III period (600-725 AD), widely regarded as a revolutionary era for this region and culture. Some notable advancements, including the introduction of a new variety of corn, the birth of pottery and the adoption of the bow and arrow “came together for Pueblo society to really start growing, marking a pivotal period in Pueblo Indian history and laying the foundation for future Pueblo society,” Varien said.
However, he is aware that a wealth of Mesa Verde sediment holds knowledge of much greater consequence than this. The Neolithic Revolution, which occurred globally as far back as 12,000 years ago, marks the crucial period when humans set down spears and picked up tills. It was the birth of modern food cultivation, and southwest Colorado boasts one of the best-documented cases for this paradigm shift.
“The Neolithic Revolution is the foundation for all the societies that exist today ... all societies have their roots in this period of time,” Varien noted.
With more archaeological sites per square mile than any place in the nation, the Mesa Verde area “reflects the most detailed study anywhere in the interaction between humans and their environment over thousands of years,” according to Varien. “We can work with living modern Pueblo people ... and use their understanding of their history to better understand the archaeological record. There are very few other places where this can happen.”
Isaac Gilbert, email@example.com
School of Human Evolution and Social Change