UC Archaeology Research Digs Into Use of Water by the Maya and More

University of Cincinnati researchers will present recent work at the April 3-7 Society for American Archaeology annual meeting. Their topics include the control and use of water sources among the Maya as social and environmental pressures increased from AD 800-1000; the wild and domestic food sources for the Anasazi of AD 900-1100 in what is now the American Southwest; and a study of efforts to save a sandstone cave in Southeastern Kentucky that contain the oldest known writings of Sequoyah.

Below are the UC presentations to be made at the meeting:


The hilly Puuc region of Yucatan and Campeche presented the ancient Maya with severe challenges because of seasonal aridity, lack of surface water and scarcity of water-bearing caves. Regional settlement history was conditioned by the distribution of natural water sources and the construction of reservoirs and cisterns. The political control of these water sources appears to have limited the mobility of regional population particularly as both social and environmental pressures increased from AD 800-1000. The large site of Xcoch serves as a case study to illustrate these patterns, and a comparison locale  with other sites in the region.

UC presenters: Nicholas P. Dunning, University of Cincinnati
Eric Weaver, University of Cincinnati
Co-authors: Michael P. Smyth, Foundation for Americas Research
David Ortegon Zapata, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia de Mexico


Analysis of charcoal from the Ceren site in El Salvador provides insights into the regional landscape of the Late Classic period.  Wood remains from tropical deciduous forests  were evident. Trees reflective of the riparian forest were also well represented. Curiously, pine charcoal probably from the upper reaches of the volcanic cones in the region, was common at Ceren. These data indicate that the

ancient Maya of Ceren were exploiting a wide range of habitats that no longer exist

in the modern landscape.

UC presenters: David Lentz, University of Cincinnati
Angela Hood, University of Cincinnati
Co-author: Christine Hoffer, Ohio State University


In a session titled “Tribal Consultation: Lessons Learned and Future Directions,” a successful effort to save the oldest known writings of Sequoyah will be examined. The Red Bird River Shelter, located on the west side of the Red Bird River in Clay County, Southeastern Ky., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is the gravesite of Dotsuwa (Red Bird), a Cherokee who was murdered nearby by two men from Tennessee in 1796. Considered a sacred site, the sandstone cave contains traditional Cherokee engravings by Red Bird, the oldest known writings of Sequoyah and the oldest known example of the Cherokee syllabary.  In 2002, descendants of Red Bird and the Piqua Shawnee tribe learned that the location of the site was wrongly recorded and slated for destruction as part of the construction of a new gas pipeline.  Working with representatives from Daniel Boone National Forest, the Piqua Shawnee tribe was able to successfully divert the pipeline project and save the site.

UC presenter: Kenneth Tankersley, University of Cincinnati


At some level, all are behavioral archaeologists – practitioners of an approach that ultimately came to dominate the research program of the University of Arizona’s Archaeological Field School at Grasshopper Pueblo. Focusing on understanding how the complex interactions among formation processes affect the emergence of archaeological variability, Grasshopper research is known for its commitment to multidisciplinary studies as a means to establish a region’s inferential potential for a variety of anthropological problems. A long-term project by Alan Sullivan, UC professor and chair of anthropology, in the Grand Canyon area is modeled after the Grasshopper program, with one important exception – it does not rely on correlates, ethnography, ethnoarchaeology, or modern material-culture studies to infer the origins, formation histories, and interpretive significance of the region’s highly variable archaeological phenomena. By drawing on the results of two decades of intensive survey, excavation, and geoarchaeological investigations in the Upper Basin, which is located south of the Grand Canyon’s heavily visited South Rim, he illustrates how independent archaeological theory and interpretation-neutral units of analysis can yield anthropologically interesting inferences about rarely considered forms of environmental manipulation and  economic behavior, as well as the evolutionary consequences of the archaeological record itself.

UC presenter: Alan P. Sullivan, University of Cincinnati


The unique topography of the Upper Basin, on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, makes it a transitional environment that acts as a cultural and environmental frontier. The pinyon-juniper woodland environment of the Upper Basin hosts a diversity of wild resources that provided opportunities for a variety of subsistence strategies. While the dominant paradigm interprets the Anasazi as strict maize agriculturalists, archaeobotanical evidence from Site 17, a multi-room masonry structure, has been interpreted as evidence for a mixed subsistence economy based on a macrobotanical assemblage that yielded 99.5 percent wild remains and 0.5 percent domesticated remains. This evidence suggests a more heterogeneous pattern of subsistence adaptations among Pueblo II (AD 900-1100) Kayenta Anasazi sites than previously considered. To explore this question, archaeobotanical analysis was conducted on site MU 125, a six-room masonry structure occupied from AD 1070-1090, which is not only contemporary with and typologically analogous to Site 17, but is also situated in the same type of Upper Sonoran environment. Preliminary analysis of

wild plant ubiquity, abundance, and seasonality of MU 125 adds to our understanding of Ancient Puebloan subsistence practices

and resource activity scheduling.

UC presenter: Nikki Berkebile, University of Cincinnati


The Upper Basin of the south rim of the Grand Canyon presents an excellent cross section of different federal agencies’ (Grand Canyon National Park and Kaibab National Forest) approaches to land management. Though the environment and cultural landscape are relatively similar between the two jurisdictions, different priorities lead to dissimilar land management practices.

Evidence shows that divergent land management practices

between agencies have profound effects on the level of disturbance across an archaeological landscape. In order to inform the discussion of disturbances across the Upper basin, a vulnerability study was conducted to identify areas of disruption in the archaeological record and the stressors that ultimately caused this damage. The study uses satellite remote sensing data, and GPS data, to analyze trends in ground disturbance and forest use that directly influence cases of inadvertent vandalism to archaeological sites. As a result of this analysis, a disturbance framework for the Upper Basin is presented that draws heavily from current ideas in vulnerability theory. Using this framework, conclusions can be drawn about the influence of federal land managers on archaeological disturbance.

UC presenter: Ryan Washam, University of Cincinnati

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UC will gather to honor alumni at 'Night with A&S'

Event: March 6, 2024 5:30 PM

Four outstanding alumni and donors will be celebrated on Wed., March 6 during UC’s annual Night with A&S event. The ceremony also recognizes all the donors who have contributed to the forward momentum and impact of UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, and will be hosted by Dean James Mack.

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