Decades of Advancing Southwest Archaeology

Posted September 10, 2023

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.