Alternate Approaches to Archaeology: Lessons from the 18th Southwest Symposium

Posted February 8, 2023

Last month, Crow Canyon staff attended the 18th Southwest Symposium in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Presenters were tasked with featuring alternate approaches to interpreting the archaeological record of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico at multiple scales.

Dr. Ben Bellorado and renowned Pueblo weavers Christopher P. Lewis and Louie Garcia were invited to present on Ancestral Pueblo sandal weaving traditions. This collaborative project develops multivocal interpretations of Ancestral Pueblo sandal weaving traditions by combining the perspectives of two expert Pueblo weavers and an archaeologist who specializes in ancient clothing practices in the US Southwest. The alternate approaches to interpreting the archaeological record highlighted the following attributes:

-Rarely recovered and understudied perishable Ancestral Pueblo sandal traditions, and

-To bring expert weavers from descendant communities into museum settings to work with archaeologists and museum professionals to understand their ancestors’ footwear.

Here is the full title and abstract of the presentation:

Sandal Biographies and Social Identities: Collaborative Approaches to the Study of Ancestral Pueblo Sandal Traditions in the Northern US Southwest

By Benjamin A. Bellorado, Laboratory Director, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center; Christopher J. Lewis, Fiber Artist and Cultural Scholar, Pueblo of Zuni; and Louie Garcia, Fiber Artist and Cultural Scholar, Tiwa and Piro


Footwear provides one of the most intimate mechanisms through which humans interact with the world. Every aspect of the technological and stylistic make-up of footwear provides insights about the identities of their weavers, their wearers, and the value of these garments in the societies where they functioned. Drawing on the perspectives of Zuni and Tiwa/Piro weavers and a clothing archaeologist, we investigate identity expression and object biographies in Ancestral Pueblo sandal weaving traditions at multiple scales. Through collaborative collections research, we demonstrate methods that Indigenous artisans and archaeologists can use to develop new understandings of the past, present, and future.


And, if you’d like to learn more, Pushing Boundaries in Southwestern Archaeology is a new publication that features conference themes from the 16th biennial Southwest Symposium and a chapter by Dr. Ben Bellorado!

Dr. Bellorado’s contribution to the volume, chapter 8, is titled “Pushing the Boundaries of Clothing Research: A Preliminary Look at Twined Sandals in Relation to Social Identities in the Chaco and Post-Chaco Eras.” Bellorado focuses on understanding the role of Ancestral Pueblo sandals in expressions of social identities, group affiliations, and prestige displays, or how people used footwear to tell others who they were and where they came from. One example of this effort is dating the development and spread of jogged toed sandals, an iconic attribute of Chaco and Mesa Verde identities across the Colorado Plateau.

Ben and his late colleague and friend Saul Hedquist organized one of the volume sessions on collections-based research. “The papers in the session focused on the incredible potential that museum legacy collections have for advancing southwestern archaeology, using materials that have already been excavated but rarely, or never, studied,” says Dr. Bellorado.

A note from the editor:

“Bellorado dives deep into the analysis of exquisitely preserved ancient footwear to demonstrate how people used clothing to signal aspects of social identity, group identity, and political organization in the Chaco and post-Chacoan worlds. In so doing, he demonstrates how truly remarkable the Southwest is from a preservation perspective. There are few places in the world in which one could pursue such research.”


This August, Christopher Lewis, Ben Bellorado alongside Austin Choochyamptewa will lead a week-long Pueblo Belt Weaving Workshop. Create your own Pueblo-style weaving under the guidance of our textile experts. Along the way, examine textiles as reflections of human identity and explore the cultural and archaeological contexts. Registration is open, so sign up online today!