Decades of Advancing Southwest Archaeology

When it comes to contributions to American Southwest archaeology, Dr. Mark Varien has built up an extensive repertoire. During his 35-year tenure with Crow Canyon, Mark left his mark on the field, not only through many important research projects and findings, but also by teaching thousands of learners and fostering mutually beneficial partnerships with American Indian tribes throughout the Southwest.

Mark retired from Crow Canyon in 2022 and his most recent position as Executive Vice President of the Research Institute, where he led numerous key research projects and mentored dozens of future professionals in the field. Crow Canyon is grateful for Mark’s dedication to furthering our mission over the years. Here are a few highlights from Mark’s extensive list of accomplishments:

Sand Canyon Project Site Testing

This project was the subject of Mark’s dissertation and book, “Sedentism and Mobility in a Social Landscape: Mesa Verde and Beyond,” which focused on understanding population movement in the central Mesa Verde region. Mark measured how long families occupied their small homes and how this changed over time. “I demonstrated that while households moved relatively frequently (about every 8 years in the A.D. 600s, increasing to about 20 years by the A.D. 900s, and increasing to about 40 years in the A.D. 1200s), they moved in a social landscape that consisted of communities that persisted for centuries and that these communities had central sites we call community centers that were occupied for much longer than the smaller residential sites,” shared Mark.

Village Ecodynamics Project

Mark was heavily involved in this multidisciplinary, multi-institutional collaboration among scientists and other researchers to study the long term (A.D. 600–1760) interaction between the Pueblo people and their environment. The project analyzed more than 25,000 sites in the American Southwest. In 2013, the Shanghai Archaeology Forum (SAF) selected the VEP Project as one of 10 top projects in the world for its major archaeological research findings. “We furthered understanding of why the Mesa Verde region was depopulated in the A.D. 1280s, the migration of most of these people to the northern Rio Grande region, and the formation of the different Pueblo communities along the Rio Grande that persist to this day,” explained Mark.

Pueblo Farming Project

This project is a collaboration between Crow Canyon and the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office to understand ancient maize (corn) agriculture in the Mesa Verde region through documenting traditional ecological knowledge, experimental gardens, and genetic analysis. The project found that traditional varieties of Hopi corn, when planted using Hopi cultivation methods, grow well in the Mesa Verde region. “One of the project’s outcomes has been to return the bulk of our maize harvests to Hopi and distributing that corn to various families there,” said Mark.

Click here to learn more about Mark.

This story is from the 2022 Annual Report.

From Explorer To Supporter

“It was life-changing,” said Karin Sheldon about her first in-person trip with Crow Canyon six years ago. She remembers every detail about it as if it were yesterday, recalling special moments from throughout the Cultural Explorations travel seminar that took her from Chaco to Mesa Verde to Canyons of the Ancients. Learning firsthand from Zuni and Ute scholars as well as Crow Canyon archaeologists played a big role in creating an “astonishing and amazing” experience for Karin, a retired environmental lawyer from Lafayette, Colorado.

Since then, Crow Canyon has been an important aspect of Karin’s life. In 2022, she decided to give monthly to Crow Canyon. “I asked myself what could I do to support the success of an effort that I value, that I see is making a true contribution to our understanding of our past and the people who came before us? How can I make sure that it is sustainable into the future?” shared Karin.

Karin understands the fundraising challenges of nonprofit organizations like Crow Canyon. She donates monthly because: “It’s critical to receive support, not just once a year, but to have consistent income so an organization can build a budget, manage it successfully, and avoid the ups and downs,” she shared.

From her very first experience, Karin was drawn in by Crow Canyon’s philosophy and approach. “What impressed me most was the recognition of the need for engagement with Native people in all aspects of their work,” she shared. “Archaeology has changed over time. It is moving away from gathering artifacts and sending them back to a museum, to an emphasis on the importance of place and of relationships and reciprocity. There isn’t a person I’ve met at Crow Canyon who isn’t thinking about that.”

Karin appreciates that Crow Canyon reaches learners such as herself who are enriched by the programs and find relevance to other aspects of life as well. “The opportunity to understand more about the culture, art, and lifeways of the people who have lived in the Southwest for more than a thousand years is a true gift,” she said.

Click here to learn more about becoming a monthly supporter.

This story is from the 2022 Annual Report.

Unexpected Human Experiences Inspire

“There’s no way a regular solo traveler like me could get myself to or find these places that are so obscure and out of the way. Almost everything we saw on the trip was a gift; it was wonderful to be able to visit these kinds of places,” shared Susan Markley, a retired marine scientist from Florida, about a Cultural Explorations trip she took in 2022.

The trip, “Indigenous People of the Four Corners: The Lands Between,” was one of three Cultural Explorations travel seminars hosted by Crow Canyon in 2022. Getting to hear and learn from Indigenous cultural specialists is one reason this trip was Susan’s ninth. “Knowledge experts like Donald Dawahongnewa and Ronald Wadsworth, Hopi scholars who were on the trip, and Dr. Mark Varien, help you see and understand things that you wouldn’t on your own as a traveler. Like a pile of rocks that’s really a shrine and considered a special place, so we need to be respectful,” explained Susan.

The 2022 Lands Between program took participants to sites representing different time periods, from rock art of the last hunter-gatherers, to winter solstice shrines created by the first Basketmaker II farmers, through Basketmaker, Pueblo, and Ute periods.

An unexpected experience along the way reiterated for Susan why she keeps signing up for trips like this: “We stopped to see one experimental plot of the Pueblo Farming Project, which Crow Canyon has been doing with the Hopi Nation. We went into an unirrigated bean field where Hopi farmers have planted heritage corn from ancient seeds using ancestral farming methods, ”shared Susan. “As we approached the plot, the corn was spectacularly tall and the Hopi scholars, who also helped advise the project, were so full of joy to see it. It was so life affirming to see this connection with corn manifest in happiness, joy, and excitement. Such a memorable and human experience that I wouldn’t have had on my own.”

Click here to learn more about Crow Canyon’s Cultural Explorations program

This story is from the 2022 Annual Report.

Helping Teachers Bring Inclusivity and Relevance to the Classroom

One Crow Canyon extends the reach of our educational programming is through seminars and workshops for teachers. Over the last 10 years, more than 700 teachers have come to Crow Canyon to enhance their curriculum and develop lesson plans based on multicultural perspectives. In 2022, we hosted 23 K–12 teachers from around the U.S. thanks to funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

One of those teachers was Nate Ramin, a middle school social studies teacher from Chicago. “I think there’s a pretty big deficit in terms of how a lot of schools teach Native American history, especially in the Midwest,” shared Nate. “Much of what is taught in classrooms leaves out the perspectives of the people being studied. Often Native Americans are studied as part of the past, but that’s just not the case – they’re very much a present part of the world today.”

Nate appreciated the opportunity to travel to Crow Canyon and experience an inclusive and respectful approach that incorporates traditional western archaeology as well as Indigenous perspectives and knowledge.

“This training dovetailed with my sixth grade world studies class in which we look at ancient civilizations,” shared Nate. “I’ve been able to incorporate the study of Ancestral Pueblo people not as people who came and went, but as the ancestors of people who are still living in the Southwest.”

Helping his students find relevance is important to Nate’s teaching approach and demonstrating modern connections to Ancestral Pueblo people has made a real difference in their learning. “Studying something that’s theoretically over and done, students don’t see as relevant. However, studying something that continues on and impacts us, and that we may even be able to take part in is more relevant to them, and students really appreciate that,” explained Nate.

Click here to learn more about Crow Canyon’s NEH program.

This story is from the 2022 Annual Report.

Tipi Classroom Enhances Ute Education

Teacher Moqui Mustain-Fury and 17 of her fourth grade students from Battlerock Charter School in rural Montezuma county were some of the first to learn first-hand about Ute culture inside a Ute tipi in Fall 2022.

“It was great for the kids getting these wonderful traditional stories while sitting directly on the ground. That was important; it was a very grounded feeling,” shared Moqui.

The tipi is a new outdoor classroom added to Crow Canyon’s campus in 2022. “It’s for teaching kids, both Native and non-Native,” shared Crow Canyon educator Rebecca Hammond (Ute Mountain Ute Tribe). “The goal is to expand our Ute educational programming.”

“Historically Crow Canyon has focused mostly on Pueblo culture,” explained Crow Canyon educator Jeremy Grundvig. “However, 26 tribes are connected to the area and our education team has been expanding curriculum to incorporate additional cultures such as Ute.”

Before students approach the tipi, Rebecca explains how to enter and how to sit inside. Once inside, she shares history about the Ute people in Colorado and first-hand experiences about Ute culture, showing examples of baskets, beadwork, and more.

“It was so nice to see Rebecca talk about her culture and her people inside a traditional Ute tipi,” shared Moqui.

To set up the tipi, Crow Canyon’s education team enlisted help from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. “Every tribe does it differently and they demonstrated the Ute way,” explained Jeremy. “We learned a lot about the culture during set-up, like that women were always in charge of setting up the tipi. Until the early 20th century the Ute were still hunter-gatherers and were moving across the landscape. The tipi became their main form of living space.”

More than 300 students had the opportunity to learn about Ute culture—past and present—in the new tipi classroom in 2022 and we look forward to welcoming many more in the coming years.

Click here to learn more about Crow Canyon’s student education programs.

This story is from the 2022 Annual Report. Click here to read the full report.

American Indian Intern Finds Inspiration at Crow Canyon

Crow Canyon’s collaborative and inclusive approach means a lot to Indigenous people who come to Crow Canyon to develop their education and careers, like Ritchie Sahneyah, Hopi Tribe, Village of Tewa, Tobacco Clan. He served as an American Indian Initiatives intern with Crow Canyon in 2022 and is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Anthropology.

Coming to Crow Canyon was an eye-opening experience for Ritchie: “Growing up, I didn’t have much exposure to ancestral sites outside of the reservation. I knew about places in the Grand Canyon and National Parks, but never knew there was a larger landscape beyond that, especially in the Mesa Verde region,” he shared.

Ritchie had the opportunity to be part of a range of Crow Canyon activities and projects, including a Cultural Explorations scouting trip with Hopi scholars at an area known as The Lands Between, named for its position between Bears Ears and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments.

“We went to a few sites with rock art panels and being there, hearing their knowledge of different depictions was very inspiring and gave me a deep understanding of my own culture and the history of the area,” said Ritchie. “The experience with Crow Canyon allowed me to feel connected to my culture all while learning how traditional knowledge can teach us so much more about the past, present, and future.”

Ritchie’s experience has inspired him to do more to teach about his Tribe’s culture and pursue studies in ethnoarchaeology in the Southwest region: “My experience with Crow Canyon helped me see how rich our culture is and how far it spreads. I want to help preserve that and encourage young people in my community to become interested and engaged in careers in archaeology and anthropology.”

Click here to learn more about Crow Canyon’s American Indian Initiatives Intern program.

This story is from the 2022 Annual Report: Read the full report.

Local Partnership Brings Resources Together for Cultural Education

Less than five miles from the Crow Canyon campus resides an inspiring Native American cultural hub: the Cortez Cultural Center. Not only does the center welcome tens of thousands of visitors each year who are on their way to cultural sites like Mesa Verde National Park; it also stewards Hawkins Preserve, a 122–acre cultural asset open to the public, and it is the caretaker of a large collection of Ancestral Pueblo artifacts.

In 2022, the Cultural Center and Crow Canyon developed a new partnership that is already making a big difference. “One challenge is a collection of Pueblo artifacts donated to us in 2004. They are displayed in a public exhibit, but there’s no background, context, or interpretation,” explained Rebecca Levy, Cultural Center Executive Director.

This became a perfect opportunity for Crow Canyon’s research lab staff and interns to help document and analyze the artifacts. “They’re helping us better understand what we have which will lead to a plan for displaying and/or repatriating the pieces based on exhibit and ethical best practices,” said Rebecca.

The resulting informative exhibits will ultimately help visitors to the region learn more about the area’s Pueblo history and culture and encourage visiting cultural sites with respect. The two organizations are also working together to learn more about Hawkins Preserve’s history and significance. “We’ve only done minor excavation that’s been re-covered,” shared Rebecca. “Crow Canyon has been able to use non-invasive research techniques to further explore the site. Their findings show that in addition to Ancestral Pueblo use of the site, evidence of Navajo and Ute use exists as well.”

A key goal in this new partnership is furthering educational opportunities. It’s off to a great start considering dozens of Crow Canyon College Field School participants, students, interns, and citizen scientists have had the opportunity to participate in and learn from these exciting collaborative activities.

“I love being able to offer as many programs to as many participants as possible,” shared Rebecca. “I see both our local community and visitors really benefiting from this partnership.”

Click here to learn more about the Cortez Cultural Center.

Click here to learn more about Hawkins Preserve.

This story is from the 2022 Annual Report: Read the full report.

Crow Canyon’s 2022 Annual Report is here!

In the 2022 Annual Report:

President & Chair Message

Hear from President, Liz, and Board Chair, Ricky on recent accomplishments and forward-looking insights

Positive Partnerships

Read about Ritchie Sahneyah (Hopi Tribe, Village of Tewa, Tobacco Clan) and his experience serving as an intern; and about advancements being made through a collaborative partnership with the Cortez Cultural Center

Pivotal Research

Learn about research that culminated in 2022; and about Mark Varien’s 35-year career

Expanding Education

Read about ways we expanded educational opportunities for people of all ages

Transformational Experiences & Resilient Relationships

Hear stories from friends and supporters about their life-changing experiences

Remembering Stuart Streuver

Read about Crow Canyon co-founder and his impact on the field of archaeology

Your 2022 Support

We are grateful for the many generous supporters who care so deeply about our mission

2022 Operating Revenue and Expenses

View financial charts and statements

Click here to read the full 2022 Annual Report.

2023 Pecos Conference in Flagstaff, AZ

Numerous Crow Canyon researchers, interns, and College Field School students had the honor of presenting at the recent Pecos Conference August 10–13, 2023 in Flagstaff, AZ. Their poster presentations covered a range of Crow Canyon research topics and sites, including Hawkins Preserve, the Haynie site, Pueblo II pottery, and projectile points. Learn more about the presenters and their topics in the summaries below:

Survey of Hawkins Preserve (Cortez, Colorado)

Julia Frost, Jesse Vigil, Levi Johannsen

The Hawkins Preserve is 122 acres of privately owned publicly accessible land south of Cortez, Colorado. Its owner, the Cortez Cultural Center partnered with Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in 2020 to conduct surveys at the Preserve to document new sites and expand knowledge of previously documented areas. The 2021 Range Fire burned the southern third of the Preserve, providing an opportunity to conduct further research on areas that may have been previously overgrown. The 2023 College Field School, under the guidance of Grant Coffey and Dr. Kellam Throgmorton, conducted surveys and documented new sites ranging from potentially the Archaic Period to the modern day. These data can be used to infer cultural occupation and use in this under surveyed part of the Central Mesa Verde Region. The knowledge gained benefits researchers and the public in their collective efforts for preservation and demonstrates the deep cultural continuity of Indigenous peoples.

Auger Testing at the Haynie Site (5MT1905): Locating and Identifying Cultural Deposits

Alan Bradley, Shaan Vernenkar, Denali Cook

The Haynie site (5MT1905) is a large, multi-component village with two Chaco-style great house located in Southwest Colorado. It is owned by The Archaeological Conservancy. The construction of a modern house significantly affected archaeological deposits at the site. Crow Canyon’s 2023 College Field School conducted auger testing that revealed midden deposits and pitstructures, in addition to areas of recent disturbance. The information from the auger testing expands the area of known intact deposits, identifies a previously unknown pitstructure, and will help inform management decisions made by The Archaeological Conservancy.

Pottery and Social Identity in Pueblo II Design Analysis

Aidan Keener, Adriana Sarduy, Zee Fleak

This research focuses on Pueblo II pottery types at six villages located in the San Juan region using a classification system first developed by Stephens-Reed and elaborated on by Bellordo et al. Specifically, the villages are located in southwestern Colorado’s Lakeview Community as well as Pueblo Alto in Chaco Canyon and two other Chaco great houses outside of the Canyon. The diversity of pottery indicates decentralized exchange and production. Many sites had a high prevalence of Dogoszhi style, which reflected Chaco social ties. Dogoszhi existed alongside various other styles which reflected local traditions, indicating community residents displayed multiple identities while continuously associating with Chaco Canyon.

A Closer Look at Drills and Drill Holes

Kate Hughes and Tyson Hughes

This pilot study analyzes drills and drill holes from the Haynie site (5MT1905) assemblage, a large multicomponent Ancestral Pueblo site in the Central Mesa Verde Region outside of Cortez, CO. Drills are commonly understudied, so we take a more detailed look at form, material, and use wear of Haynie site drills and identified drill holes in the assemblage. We examine these artifacts to explore what drill trends emerge at the Haynie site using macro and microscopic approaches paired with experimental archaeology.

A Palette of Points: Exploring the Aesthetics of Curated and Contemporary Projectile Points at the Haynie Site (5MT1905)

Clarise McKee

Projectile points, often viewed solely through a utilitarian lens, offer valuable insights into the past. However, the significance of these artifacts likely extends beyond their functional aspects, encompassing aesthetic and cultural dimensions. This research poster aims to bridge this gap by investigating the appearance of Archaic and Basketmaker “curated” points alongside Pueblo I and II “contemporary” points at the Haynie site (5MT1905), a multi-component site located in the Central Mesa Verde Region in southwestern Colorado. Through meticulous examination and comparison, we explore the visual attributes of curated and contemporary points by analyzing factors such as color, transparency, and luster.

1680 Pueblo Revolt Commemoration

On August 10, 2023 the Pueblo world commemorates the 1680 Pueblo Revolt which occurred 343 years ago. The Pueblo Revolt is regarded as the first successful revolution by an Indigenous civilization in the Western Hemisphere against a foreign occupying entity.

For eight decades, the Pueblo people suffered harsh feudal oppression, forced religious conversions and persecutions, the encroachment and occupation of their ancestral homelands by Spanish invaders and other factors which challenged Pueblo societal norms and was an existential threat to the continuation of all that defined the Pueblos’ world.

The Revolt was a coordinated, collective Pueblo effort to assert their inalienable right for autonomy and free themselves from a colonizing foreign kingdom. Po’Pay, a Tewa spiritual leader and War Captain from the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh, was instrumental in the leadership and coordination of the revolt. The name Po’pay means “Ripe Squash” in the Tewa language or translated to mean “Ripe Squash” in the Tewa language, spoken by the people of the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh. Although not the first in the Western Hemisphere, the Revolt exemplifies the perseverance and resilience of Pueblo peoples, their traditions, cultures, and languages, and is the legacy of their descendants—21 Pueblo communities of the U.S. Southwest.

Cliff Fragua, from Jemez Pueblo, is the artist who sculpted the famous marble statue of Po’Pay that now resides in the U.S. Capitol’s Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall in Washington, D.C. Crow Canyon also stewards a bronze statue of Po’Pay in the Gates Building lobby – a generous gift from Bill and Julia Huff. Cliff created his first sculpture in 1974 and studied techniques in Italy, California, and New Mexico. (Photo of Po’Pay marble statue courtesy of Architect of the Capitol; artist Cliff Fragua.)

If you’d like to learn more, the book titled “Po’Pay: Leader of the First American Revolution” by Joe Sando (Jemez) and Herman Agoyo (Ohkay Owingeh) is an excellent resource and provides additional background on the Po’Pay statue.

The Pueblo Indian Cultural Center’s (IPCC) website also offers numerous resources about the Pueblo Revolt, including a new online exhibit and Indigenous Wisdom curriculum on the subject for high school students. Virtual events also include an interview with the Po’Pay sculptor, Cliff Fragua, a knotted cord demonstration with Shannon Romero, and a presentation about the Pueblo Revolt by Crow Canyon educator, Jon Ghahate.

Learn more about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 at the IPCC website!

At Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, we have the honor of working with descendant tribal members to connect the past to the present. Thank you to all our friends, partners, collaborators, and supporters for your generosity and commitment!

Trustee and traveler Leslie Cohen leaves a legacy at Crow Canyon

A Massachusetts native, Leslie Cohen first came to Crow Canyon on a 1996 Backcountry Exploration trip led by Bill Lipe. Over the next 16 years, she participated in more than 25 research and exploration programs at Crow Canyon.

With years of deep connection as a program participant, volunteer, trustee, and donor, after her passing on Dec. 5, 2022, Leslie secured her legacy at Crow Canyon by leaving a significant bequest.

Leslie always exhibited a thirst for knowledge. With an M.Ed. in special education and experience with special needs students in New England, Leslie chose a new path by completing a second master’s degree in 2002, this time in anthropology and archaeology. She was also elected to the Crow Canyon Board of Trustees. She moved to Santa Fe and worked in archaeology as a professional and a volunteer. She authored a series of publications independently and in collaboration with friends from Crow Canyon. Leslie had a focus on ceramic analysis but her subjects weren’t always technical: two of her published pieces highlighted the accomplishments of Bertha Dutton, one of the first female archaeologists to work with the National Park Service.

Following a medical setback in 2014, Leslie moved into an assisted living facility, where she was cared for until her passing. Leslie’s foresight in making a planned gift has made possible the purchase of three new-to-Crow Canyon vehicles. It is a fitting use of Leslie’s generosity, after her decades of tooling around the Four Corners backcountry in Crow Canyon vans of varying condition. Thank you, Leslie Cohen!

For information about making a planned gift to support Crow Canyon’s future, contact Sarah Grace Pretzer at or 970-560-7545.

Read the full Summer 2023 newsletter here.

Summer 2023 newsletter special 40th Anniversary issue

In the Summer 2023 newsletter special 40th Anniversary issue:

Let’s Celebrate!

Get all the details about the 40th Anniversary Conference and Celebration in October – learn about speakers and activities planned and how to register

Exciting Experiences Abound!

Read about the many activities happening on Crow Canyon’s campus and in the field, and the people involved

Upcoming Programs and Activities

Check out what’s coming up, learn more, and register

Trustee and Traveler Leslie Cohen

Read a tribute to our friend and partner Leslie Cohen and her incredible impact on Crow Canyon

Read the full newsletter here!