Scott Ortman Dissertation Definition

Scott Ortman is a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University. He received his B.A. in anthropology from Stanford University in 1994 and his M.A. in anthropology from Arizona State University in 1998. Scott has been associated with the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center since 1993, when he was a field research intern at Castle Rock Pueblo. He worked as a seasonal field assistant from 1994 to 1996 before joining the full-time staff in 1997, first as material culture specialist, then as laboratory director and database manager, and today as acting director of research. Scott has authored or coauthored eight peer-reviewed journal articles (in American Antiquity, Kiva, and World Archaeology), 11 chapters in edited volumes (published by Altamira Press, Arizona State University, the University of California Press, the University Press of Colorado, Routledge, SAR Press, and the University of Utah Press), and major sections of four archaeological site reports on Crow Canyon’s Web site. In recognition of his work, Scott has received the Firestone Medal for Excellence in Research from Stanford, the Ruppe Student Prize from Arizona State University, and the Student Paper Award from the Society for American Archaeology. His dissertation work is also supported by the National Science Foundation. Scott’s research interests range widely but focus on archaeological method and theory; Pueblo history, culture, and language; and the integration of the traditional subfields of anthropology: cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology.


The rise of population in the northern Rio Grande valley of New Mexico during the thirteenth century A.D. has long been linked to Pueblo migration from the Four Corners region to the west and northwest. The diversity of contemporary Pueblo languages in the Rio Grande suggests that people speaking several different languages took part in these migrations, but the material culture of postmigration Rio Grande sites does not map onto historic language distributions very well, and it does not exhibit obvious continuities with earlier archaeological cultures of the Four Corners. This lack of fit between language and archaeology is why the origin of the Rio Grande pueblos remains a classic puzzle in North American archaeology.

This research takes a fresh look at this puzzle by investigating the origins of the Tewa, one of the major Pueblo groups of the Rio Grande. Specifically, it focuses on relationships between the present-day Tewa and the ancient population of the Mesa Verde region, that portion of the larger Four Corners region most commonly cited as the Tewa homeland. The project traces the genetic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds of the Tewa using five lines of investigation: (1) an analysis of the biological relationships between Tewa and Mesa Verde populations, using data from skeletal remains; (2) a linguistic study to determine the length of time Tewa has been a distinct language; (3) the archaeological dating of sites with Tewa names to determine the length of time Tewa has been spoken in the Rio Grande; (4) an analysis linking metaphors expressed in Mesa Verde material culture and embedded in the Tewa language to determine whether Tewa was spoken in the Mesa Verde region prior to migration; and (5) an archaeological study of continuities and discontinuities in material culture between the Mesa Verde and Tewa regions, using frameworks derived from ethnographic and historic migration studies.

This transdisciplinary research will clarify affiliations between specific American Indian communities and archaeological sites, and it may assist in the repatriation process mandated by federal law. It will also evaluate a new method for tracing speech communities and will contribute to reunification of the currently estranged subfields of anthropology. Finally, this research will greatly expand public interpretation of archaeological sites by reconstructing the languages that were spoken in ancient times at sites in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, including sites in national parks and monuments visited by thousands of people every year.

My research focuses on historical anthropology, or the integration of theory and data from many fields to understand the long-term histories of indigenous peoples. I am 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, I have 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. I am 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 I have 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, I was Director of Research at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado, and an Omidyar Postdoctoral Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute.

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