For the Archaeology of Human Experience to have an impact on public policy, archaeologists need to identify what contemporary society values were, determine the extent to which ancient societies provided these values, and examine what it was that enabled certain societies to provide them better than others. I develop a case study of this approach focusing on the famous “collapse” of Mesa Verde society and subsequent formation of ancestral Tewa society in the 13th century C.E. I translate the archaeological record into measures that reflect the United Nations Development Programme’s dimensions of human security to show that ancestral Tewa society eventually met basic human needs better than Mesa Verde society had done. I also present archaeological, linguistic, and cultural evidence that argues the ultimate driver of enhanced security was conceptual change during the migration period. This example suggests ideas play important roles in structuring behavioral habits and thus long-term social outcomes.
Professor Ortman’s work focuses on historical anthropology, or the integration of theory and data from many fields to understand the long-term histories of indigenous peoples. He is especially interested in the causes and consequences of major transitions – periods when new societies formed, old ones collapsed, or new scales of organization emerged. As examples, he has investigated Tewa Pueblo origins in the Northern Rio Grande region of New Mexico; the growth and collapse of villages in the Mesa Verde region of Colorado; and more recently, the accumulation of social complexity on a global scale. He is currently working on the Neolithic Revolution in the U.S. Southwest in collaboration with Crow Canyon Archaeological Center and the CU Museum of Natural History, the emergence of towns in the Tewa Basin, and complex systems approaches to human societies in collaboration with the Santa Fe Institute.
Since 2003 Prof. Ortman has been involved with the Village Ecodynamics Project, a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional collaboration that investigates long-term human-environment interactions in the U.S. Southwest. Prior to coming to CU, he was Director of Research at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado, and an Omidyar Postdoctoral Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute.
This event is part of a new series: Undocumented Stories: Writing Africa and the Americas across the Disciplines, co-sponsored by ISERP and the Center for Archaeology at Columbia University.