Severin Fowles

Chair of American Studies, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Archaeology Track


American Studies, Anthropology Department


411D Milbank
Wednesdays 2:00pm- 4:00pm and by appointment



As an archaeologist, my research takes up questions of religion, visual culture, landscape, counterculture, and indigeneity in North America. Since 1996, I have undertaken archaeological fieldwork in northern New Mexico each summer, directing projects ranging from excavations at a large 13th century Ancestral Pueblo village, to landscape surveys in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, excavations at a Spanish colonial village, and excavations at a 1960s hippie commune. My first book, An Archaeology of Doings: Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion (2013, School for Advanced Research), explored the changing “religious” worlds of Pueblo communities in northern New Mexico from the eleventh century to the present, drawing on this history to critically reevaluate the secular premises that adhere to archaeological claims about religion. My second book, Comanche Afterimages: Visual Culture and History in Northern New Mexico (in prep), builds from a decade of landscape surveys in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, in the course of which I and my colleagues have discovered a major distribution of elaborate early eighteenth century rock art panels in the Plains Biographic Tradition style. Working collaboratively with members of the Comanche Nation, I am using this iconography and its associated archaeological traces to write a new history of 18th century New Mexico that foregrounds the political agency of indigenous Plains actors. My most recent research initiative is a study of indigenous agricultural landscapes in northern New Mexico, conducted in partnership with Picuris Pueblo. 

On campus at Barnard, I direct the Archaeology Track in the Barnard Anthropology Department, and I teach a variety of courses including "Origins of Human Society," "Pre-Columbian Histories of Native America," "American Material Culture," "Archaeology of Idols," and "Thing Theory." While away from campus during the summer, I direct Barnard's field program in New Mexico, which creates an opportunity for Barnard and Columbia students to learn methods of archaeological survey and excavation.

  • PhD, Michigan (2004)
  • BA, Dartmouth (1993)

  • Political history
  • Counterculture
  • Landscape
  • Visual culture
  • Religion
  • Indigenous archaeology
  • Native American studies
  • American Southwest

American Material Culture (ANTH UN3723)

Provides an intensive introduction to material culture analysis and its potential contributions to the study of American history. As such, our focus is methodological. In seminar, we consider both (1) key texts that give intellectual shape to the central questions in modern material culture studies (namely, “what do things mean?”, “what do things do?”, and “what do things want?”) and (2) published case studies demonstrating how to engage in serious object-based research (including studies of Victorian homes in New England, garbage disposal in modern American cities, post-Katrina reclamation in New Orleans, and the campsites of undocumented migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border). Seminar discussions are supplemented by visits to three NYC museums (the American Museum of Natural History, the 9/11 Museum, and the Tenement Museum) and one Archaeology Repository (Rothschild Research Center), as well as by three laboratory practicums (in which we collectively analyze the material remains of a Spanish colonial village, a 1960s Hippie commune, and a contemporary homeless encampment).

Thing Theory (ANTH G6085)

An intensified concern with materiality and the slippery category of “things” has emerged in the past decade as an explicitly interdisciplinary endeavor involving anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, political scientists, philosophers, and literary critics among others. The new field of material culture studies that has resulted inverts the longstanding study of how people make things by asking also how things make people, how they mediate social relationships, how they gather particular social worlds—ultimately how things can be understood as having a form of subjectivity, being, and agency of their own. In this seminar, we explore the writings of key scholars who have situated their work at the increasingly blurred boundaries between such “things” as object and subject, gift and commodity, art and artifact, alienability and inalienability, materiality and immateriality, as well as at the disciplinary boundaries between ethnography, archaeology, art history and philosophy.

Archaeology of Idols (ANTH W4065)

"Archaeology of Idols" explores 40,000 years of the human creation of, entanglement with, enchantment by, and violence toward images. Case studies roam from the Paleolithic to Petra and from the Hopi to the Taliban, all the while placing the sculpted, painted, or otherwise constructed devotional objects of archaeology into dialogue with contemporary social theory on the problem of representation, iconoclash, fetishism and the sacred. Archaeological studies are paired with texts by key theorists in art history, anthropology, and philosophy as part of a larger project designed to build an archaeological iconology that grapples with the core question of why humans have always been such prolific makers and breakers of idols. Our goal, then, is not a representative survey of human-idol relations in any particular time or place, let alone in prehistory generally. Rather, our investigations make strategic and selective leaps that highlight idolatry as a basic aspect of the human experience.

  • 2015-2018. Tow Professorship, Barnard College
  • 2014-2015. Weatherhead Fellowship, School for Advanced Research
  • 2014-2015. American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship
  • 2013-2016. National Science Foundation Senior Archaeology Grant for research on Comanche imperialism
  • 2010. Gladys Brooks Award for Teaching Excellence, Barnard College
  • 2010. Presidential Research Award, Barnard College
  • 2010. Hunt Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Wenner-Gren Foundation
  • 2010. National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend
  • 2005. Society for American Archaeology Dissertation Award. 
  • 2005. Distinguished Dissertation Award, University of Michigan. 

  • Society for American Archaeology
  • American Anthropological Association

2019. Shield-bearar, Mask-wearer, and the Power of Images in the American Southwest. Invited lecture, Princeton Univ, Dept of Classics.

2019. Shield-bearar, Mask-wearer, and the Power of Images in the American Southwest. Invited lecture, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago, Dept of Art History.

2019. A Women's History of the Neolithic in the American Southwest. Invited paper, McDonald Institute, Univ of Cambridge.

2019. Three Hundred Years in a Hispano Village: An Archaeology of Wolves, Faith, and Capitalism. Invited lecture, Southwest Seminars, Santa Fe.

2018. Prehistoriography and the North. Invited paper in honor of Stephen Lekson. U.C. Boulder.

2018. Iconohistories of the American West. Invited lecture, the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Seminar on New York and American Material Culture, Bard Graduate Center.

2018. America's Archaeologies, AALAC Faculty Workshop, Smith College.

2018. Invited panelist for discussion following the screening of Native America, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

2018. Panelist for discussion following the screening of Native America, Barnard.

2018. Armament and agency in the American West, 1300-1800. Invited paper in "The Anthropology and Aesthetics of Arms and Armor" Workshop, Columbia Univ, Oct. 19-20.

2018. Embudo Archaeology: Results of the 2018 Field Season. Invited lecture at the Embudo Valley Library.

2018. An Introduction to the History of Picuris Pueblo. Day-long lecture and guided tour for the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

2018. The Aquatic Imaginary of Ancestral Tiwa Landscapes. Invited paper in the “Deep Ecologies of the Northern Rio Grande” session at the SAA meeting, Wash. DC.

2018. The Wolf Beneath the Plaza: Pastoralism and Predation in Spanish New Mexico. Invited papers in the “Deep Ecologies of the Northern Rio Grande” session at the SAA meeting, Wash. DC. (with J. Morris)

2018. Comanche Archaeology of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Invited lecture and guided tour for the Santa Fe Site Watch Program.

2018. The Rio Grande Origins of the Plains Biographic Tradition. Invited paper, Southwest Symposium. UC Boulder.

2017. The objects of ethical displacement. Invited keynote, “Ethical and Political Materialities”, Princeton Univ.

2017. Biographic Rock Art of New Mexico: Counter-Archives of Colonialism. Invited lecture, Mayer Center Symposium. Denver Art Museum (with L. Montgomery)

2017. Comanche Rock Art as Counter-Archive. Invited paper, SAR Advanced Seminar, Santa Fe (with L. Montgomery)

2017. Latitudinal Movements in Tiwa-Apache History. Invited paper, Amerind Advanced Seminar, Dragoon, AZ (with S. Eiselt)

2017. A Thousand Years of Taos Counterculture. Embudo Valley Library, Dixon, NM.

2017. The image, the host, and the question of media archaeology. Plenary speaker at Theoretical Archaeology Group meetings, Univ. of Toronto.

2017. Latitudinal Movements in Tiwa-Apache History. In “Movement and Becoming in the American Southwest” session at the S.A.A. meeting, Vancouver.

2017. Colonial New Mexico, Seen from a Spring: Apache, Comanche, and Hispano Archaeology at LA 102343. Poster, S.A.A. meeting, Vancouver (with E. Charm)

2017. Comanche Archaeology and the Theater of War. Invited lecture, Syracuse Univ.

2017. Comanche Archaeology and the Theater of War. 2017 Distinguished Archaeology Lecturer. UC Boulder.

2017. On the Interpretation of Archaic Rock Art. Invited lecture, Southwest Seminars, Santa Fe.

2017. Barbarian Culture: Researches into the other Other. 2017 Distinguished Archaeology Lecturer. UC Boulder.


2013. An Archaeology of Doings: Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion. School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe.

2017. Oxford Handbook of Southwest Archaeology, edited by Barbara Mills and Severin Fowles. Oxford University Press.

in prep. Figured Ground: A Deep History of the Image along the Rio Grande. (with Darryl Wilkinson, Lindsay Montgomery, and Benjamin Alberti)

in prep. Comanche Afterimages: Visual Culture and History in Northern New Mexico.

in press. The Rio Grande origins of the Plains Biographic Tradition. In Proceedings of the 2018 Southwest Symposium, edited by Steve Nash. University Press of Colorado. (Severin Fowles and Lindsay Montgomery)

in press. Rock Art as Indigenous Counter-Archive in Eighteenth Century New Mexico. In Epistemic Colonialism: Indigenous Communities, Archaeology, and Evidence in the Americas, edited by Katherine Hayes and Tsim Schneider. School for Advanced Research Press. (Lindsay Montgomery and Severin Fowles)

2019. Rock art counter-archives of the American West. In Murals of the America, edited by Victoria Lyall, pp. 100-119. Denver Art Museum. (Severin Fowles and Lindsay Montgomery)

2019. Apache, Tiwa, and Back Again: Ethnic Shifting in the American Southwest. In Movement and Becoming in the American Southwest, edited by Sam Duwe and Robert Pruecel, pp. 166-194. University of Arizona Press. (Severin Fowles and Sunday Eiselt)

2018. The evolution of simple society.  Asian Archaeology 2:19-32.

2018.  Taos social history: a rhizomatic account. To appear in New Perspectives on the Pueblos II, edited by Peter Whiteley. School for Advanced Research Press.

2018. Ecologies of rock and art in northern New Mexico. In Multispecies Archaeology, edited by Suzanne E. Pilaar Birch, pp. 133-153. Routledge. (Benjamin Alberti and Severin Fowles)

2018.  Pueblo emergence on the Taos frontier. In Social Identity in Frontier and Borderland Communities, edited by Karen Harry and Sarah Herr, pp. 57-86. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.

2017.  Absorption, theatricality, and the image in deep time. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 27(4).

2017. Comanche New Mexico: the eighteenth century. In The Archaeology of the Colonial Period in the American Southwest, edited by John Douglass and William M. Graves, pp. 157-186. University of Colorado Press. (Severin Fowles, Jimmy Arterberry, Heather Atherton, and Lindsay Montgomery)

2017.  On history in Southwest archaeology. In Oxford Handbook of Southwest Archaeology, edited by Barbara Mills and Severin Fowles, pp. 3-71. Oxford University Press. (Severin Fowles and Barbara Mills)

2017.  Surface revelations: epistemologies and ecologies of rock art. In Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader, edited by Gretchen Bakke and Marina Peterson. Bloomsbury. (Severin Fowles and Benjamin Alberti)

2016    The perfect subject (postcolonial object studies). Journal of Material Culture 21(1):9-27.

2016    The stress of history: stories of an unfinished kiva. In Exploring Cause and Explanation: Historical Ecology, Demography, and Movement in the American Southwest, edited by Cynthia Herhahn and Ann Ramenofsky, pp. 177-198. University of Colorado Press.

2015    Writing collapse. In Social Theory in Archaeology and Ancient History: The Present and Future of Counternarratives, edited by Geoffrey Emberling, pp. 205-230. Cambridge University Press.

2014    On torture in societies against the state. In Violence and Civilization, edited by Rod Campbell, pp. 152-178. Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology Press, Providence. 

2013.  Foreword. Mountain and Valley: Understanding Past Land Use in the Northern Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico, edited by Bradley Vierra. University of Utah Press. 

2013.  Absence. In Oxford Handbook of the Contemporary Past, edited by Paul Graves-Brown and Rodney Harrison. Oxford University Press. (Severin Fowles and Kaet Heupel)

2013. Gesture and performance in Comanche rock art. World Art, special edition edited by Elizabeth DeMarrais and John Robb. (Severin Fowles and Jimmy Arterberry)

2012. The Pueblo village in an age of reformation. In Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology, edited by Timothy Pauketat. Oxford University Press, London.

2011. “Worlds otherwise”: archaeology, anthropology and ontological difference. Current Anthropology52(6):896-912. (Ben Alberti, Severin Fowles, Martin Holbraad and Yvonne Marshall, Christopher Witmore)

2011. Movement and the unsettling of the Pueblos. In Rethinking Anthropological Perspectives on Migration, edited by Graciela Cabana and Jeffrey Clark. University of Florida Press.

2011. Becoming Hopi, becoming Tiwa: two Pueblo histories of movement. In Margaret Nelson and Colleen Strawhacker (editors), Movement, Connectivity, and Landscape Change in the Ancient Southwest. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado (Wesley Bernardini and Severin Fowles)

2011. Archaeology in the humanities. Diogenes 229:77-103. Special issue on “The Humanities Today,” edited by Anders Petterson. (Norman Yoffee and Severin Fowles, published in six languages)

2010. A people’s history of the American Southwest. In Ancient Complexities: New Perspectives in Pre-Columbian North America, edited by Susan Alt. University of Utah Press, Provo.

2010. The Southwest School of landscape archaeology. Annual Review of Anthropology 39:453-468.

2010. People without things. In The Anthropology of Absence: Materialisations of Transcendence and Loss, edited by Mikkel Bille, Frida Hastrup, and Tim Flohr Sørensen, pp. 23-41. Springer Press, New York.

2009. The enshrined Pueblo: villagescape and cosmos in the northern Rio Grande. American Antiquity74(3):448-466.

2008. Steps toward an archaeology of taboo. In Religion, Archaeology, and the Material World, edited by Lars Fogelin, pp. 15-37. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper No. 36. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.

2007. Clay, conflict, and village aggregation: compositional analyses of pre-Classic pottery from the Taos district, NM. American Antiquity 72(1):125-52. (Severin Fowles, Leah Minc, Sam Duwe, and David Hill)

2006. Our father (our mother): gender, praxis, and marginalization in Pueblo religion. In Engaged Anthropology, edited by Michelle Hegmon and Sunday Eiselt, pp. 27-51. Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

2005. Historical contingency and the prehistoric foundations of Eastern Pueblo moiety organization. Journal of Anthropological Research. 61(1):25-52.

2004. Tewa versus Tiwa: settlement patterns and social history in the northern Rio Grande, AD 1275 to 1540. In The Protohistoric Pueblo World, A.D. 1275-1600, edited by E. Charles Adams and Andrew Duff, pp. 17-25. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

2002    Inequality and egalitarian rebellion: a tribal dialectic in Tonga history. In The Archaeology of Tribal Societies, edited by W. Parkinson, pp. 74-96. International Monographs in Prehistory, Ann Arbor.

2002    From social type to social process: placing ‘tribe’ in a historical framework. In The Archaeology of Tribal Societies, edited by W. Parkinson, pp. 13-33. International Monographs in Prehistory, Ann Arbor. 

In The News

Friday, Nov. 2, 4-5:30 pm (reception to follow), 202 Altschul Hall, Barnard College

October 25, 2018

Oxford University Press has just published The Oxford Handbook of Southwest Archaeology, co-edited by Barbara Mills and Prof. Severin Fowles...

November 10, 2017