Benjamin (Ben) Bellorado is a doctoral candidate in the anthropology department at the University of Arizona. Ben received his B.A. in anthropology from Fort Lewis College and his M.A. in anthropology from Northern Arizona University. His master’s thesis used experimental farming, site distribution studies, and climate monitoring data to reconstruct subsistence agricultural strategies in the Durango area of southwestern Colorado. Working as a professional archaeologist for almost twenty years, Ben has contributed to many of the largest research projects conducted in the Four Corners area.
Ben’s research interests include ancestral Pueblo maize farming, dendrochronology, ancestral Pueblo architecture, and textile analysis. He seeks to integrate methodological rigor and theoretical sophistication in his work, and from 2013 to the present he has pursued this goal as the Principal Investigator of the Cedar Mesa Building Murals Project. As the leader of this project, he coordinated the efforts of 45 volunteers to document murals and collect tree-ring samples from more than 20 decorated buildings.
Ben is driven by his passion for teaching, research, and the preservation of archaeological treasures. His work provides a new basis for investigating how social identity is expressed through clothing and other decorated media. His work also gives land managers and archaeologists tools they can use to ensure the long-term preservation of precious cultural resources. Finally, Ben’s collaboration with Native Americans furthers their shared understanding of tribal histories and the historical and modern significance of their textile industries.
Ben’s research examines how individuals communicate their social identity to others. He focuses on the way people use visual symbols to signal their affiliation with particular groups and their status within those groups. It is clear from present-day contexts that symbols such as head coverings reflect group affiliation, but archaeologists know little about how ancestral people used clothing to signal identity. Archaeologists know even less about how designs on clothing were transposed onto other visual media and even less about how and why these visuals symbols changed over time. Ben uses the ancestral Pueblo region as a case study to consider the complex ways people used and transformed these visual symbols to communicate important messages about group boundaries and group inclusiveness and how these aspects of social identity changed over time.
Ben investigates these questions by analyzing more than 300 twined sandals dating from A.D. 900–1300. These sandals were woven to produce complex, highly ornate patterns that left footprints unique to the individual who wore them. The sandals have been housed in museums throughout the U.S. for more than a century, but their complex designs and weaving technologies have never been systematically described or analyzed. Ben’s research creates the first-ever database of these sandal designs, allowing him to document design variation across the northern Pueblo world. Beyond the design analysis, Ben will date a large sample of these sandals to determine how the designs and the techniques used to create them varied over time.
Ben’s research also documents how sandal designs were transferred to building murals and rock art. By transferring the designs to buildings and rock exposures, ancestral Pueblo people were not only dressing themselves but also dressing their buildings and the larger landscape. Ben’s multiyear field project resulted in the first-ever database of these designs on murals and on rock exposures, and he combines these data to conduct cross-media analyses of how visual symbols, sandals in this case, were used and manipulated.
Ben’s research provides a new basis for investigating how Pueblo people expressed their social identity through clothing and other decorated media. He examines how this expression of identity changed during four centuries of cultural upheaval that includes the rise and fall of the Chaco regional system and the eventual depopulation of the northern Southwest by Pueblo people. In this way, Ben examines how Pueblo people actively expressed their social identity to negotiate tensions between groups during times when their political, economic, and religious lives underwent dramatic changes and when their migrations transformed the Pueblo world.