Severin Fowles

Assistant Professor, Anthropology

Director, Archaeology Track in Anthropology

Interim Director, American Studies Program (2013-2014)

Severin Fowles joined the Barnard Department of Anthropology in 2006. Trained as an anthropological archaeologist, his research centers on questions related to premodern religion, cultural landscapes, human-object relations, indigeneity, Native American studies, and the archaeology of the present. Since 1996, he has 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, to excavations at a Spanish colonial village, to excavations at a 1960s hippie commune. His work is vigorously collaborative, with respect to both the undergraduate and PhD students from Barnard and Columbia who join his field crews, as well as the many descendant communities in the Southwest who serve as consultants and advisers.

Prof. Fowles is the author of An Archaeology of Doings: Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion (2013, School for Advanced Research Press), which explores the changing religious worlds of Pueblo communities in northern New Mexico from the eleventh century to the present. His current research builds from his landscape surveys in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, in particular from his discovery of a vast distribution of elaborate early eighteenth century rock art panels in the Plains Biographic style. Working closely with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Comanche Nation, Prof. Fowles is drawing upon this iconography and its associated archaeological traces to write a new history of 18th century New Mexico that foregrounds the political agency of native Plains tribes. During the 2014-2015 academic year, he will be completing his second book, Comanche New Mexico: An Archaeology, while residing at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe as both a Weatherhead Fellow and an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellow.

On campus at Barnard, Prof. Fowles directs the Archaeological Track in the Anthropology Department, and he teaches a variety of introductory and upper-level courses including "Origins of Human Society," "Pre-Columbian Histories of Native America," "Archaeology of Idols," "Thing Theory," and "Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past." While away from campus during the summer, he directs Barnard's field program in New Mexico, which creates an opportunity for Barnard and Columbia students to learn the methods of archaeological survey and excavation.

Academic Focus: 

materiality, iconography, religion, landscape, indigeneity, archaeology of the present, American Southwest


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 many of the recent key works by Bruno Latour, Alfred Gell, Tim Ingold, Graham Harman, Web Keane, Daniel Miller, Jane Bennett and others 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.

Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past (ANTH 6651)

What does it mean to undertake an archaeology of the modern world? What does it mean to undertake such a thing, not just metaphorically, in the way so many scholars in the humanities now write about doing an “archaeology” of this or an “excavation” of that, but rather to undertake a literal archaeology of the modern world? ... to rummage through the garbage of the present? ... to measure and map its ruins? ... to collect and curate the detritus of the unfolding present? What does a distinctively archaeological sensibility bring to the critical analysis of modernity? And can archaeology as a discipline weather its re-direction toward a past that is still in the process of becoming?

This seminar considers these questions through the writings of archaeologists (S. Dawdy, A. González-Ruibal, P. Graves-Brown, R. Harrison, W. Rathje, J. Schofield) and others (Latour, Augé, Connerton, Edensor), as well as through film (“Garbage Warrior”, “Into Eternity”, “Life After People”, “Crash”). Our goal is to develop new conversations around three core issues: (1) the distinctive temporalities of modernity, which appear to be compressing the present/past/future and are making an archaeology of the contemporary seem necessary, (2) the dystopian imaginaries that are in ascendance and that continue to re-script Western metanarratives, and (3) the strange methods we are led to adopt each time we examine the present as if it were already dead and gone. 

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 texts by David Lewis-Williams, Lynn Meskell and Zainab Bahrani are paired with writings by W. J. T. Mitchell, Alfred Gell, David Freedberg and George Bataille as part of a larger project designed to build an archaeological iconology that seeks to understand 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.

Awards & Honors: 

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. 

Professional Affiliations: 

Society for American Archaeology, American Anthropological Association

Presentations / Recent Lectures: 

2014. Northern Tiwa Social Organization (AD 1200-1906). Invited paper, presented as part of “The Present in the Past: Rethinking Ethnographic Analogies in Puebloan Social Formations” session at the Society for Applied Anthropology meeting, Albuquerque.

2013. Taboo’s dark prehistory. Invited speaker and panelist at MoMA salon on “Taboo”, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

2013. Towards an archaeology of Comanche imperialism in the American West. Invited lecture, presented at the Department of Anthropology, Yale University.

2013. On revelation and the knowledge of surfaces. Invited paper, presented as part of the “Ecologies of evidence, life and politics” session at the American Anthropological Association meeting, Chicago. (Severin Fowles and Ben Alberti)

2013. Towards an archaeology of Comanche imperialism in the American West. Invited lecture, Archaeological Institute of America, New York. May 2.

2013. An archaeology of Comanche imperialism in the American West. Invited lecture, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.

2013. The new American (Indian) imperialism. Invited lecture, Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University (SUNY).

2013. Biographic Tradition rock art of early eighteenth century Taos. Invited paper, Rocky Mountain Anthropological Association meeting.

2013. Panelist for "Conversations: Time, Memory and Experience" session at the Society for American Archaeology meeting, Honolulu.

2013. On Pueblo emergence. Invited paper, presented as part of the “Social Identity in Frontier and Borderland Communities of the North American Southwest” session at the Society for American Archaeology meeting, Honolulu.

2012. Panelist for “Comradely Objects: Art Against Reification.” The Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School.

2012. The new American (Indian) imperialism. Invited lecture, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University.

2012. One thousand years of New Mexican counterculture. Invited lecture, presented as part of the Southwest Seminars Lecture Series, Santa Fe.

2012. Comanche archaeology and the making of eighteenth century New Mexico. Invited lecture, presented as part of the colloquia lecture series, Southern Methodist University in Taos.

2012. Comanche archaeology and the making of eighteenth century New Mexico. Invited lecture, presented as part of the Southwest Seminars Lecture Series, Santa Fe.

2012. Aqua-sociology: How water built society in pre-Columbian New Mexico. Invited keynote lecture, presented as part of "Celebrando las Acequias", Dixon, NM.

2012. Comanche archaeology and the making of eighteenth century New Mexico. Invited paper, presented as part of the Pecos Conference, Pecos National Historic Park, NM.

2012 Anatopism. Invited paper, presented as part of the “Charting a Course for the Material Turn” session at the Theoretical Archaeology Group meetings at University at Buffalo, SUNY.

2012 Gesture and performance in Comanche rock art. Invited paper, presented as part of the “Art Makes Society” session at the 77th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. (Severin Fowles and Jimmy Arteberry)

2012 The magic of numbers and the priority of history. Invited paper, presented as part of the "Approaching Convergence in Archaeological Demography" session at the 13th Southwest Symposium, Albuquerque.




2013. An Archaeology of Doings: Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion. SAR Press, Santa Fe.

in prep. Comanche New Mexico: An Archaeology. (with Jimmy Arterberry). 

in prep. Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the American Southwest. Oxford University Press. (Barbara Mills and Severin Fowles, editors)

Articles and Chapters

(forthcoming) Staging the Passion in a pagan land. Event place performance: theorizing architectural spaces in the ancient world(s), edited by Omur Harmanah and Catherine Becker. (Severin Fowles and Darryl Wilkinson).

(forthcoming) The stress of history: stories of an unfinished kiva. In Proceedings of the 2012 Southwest Symposium, edited by Ann Ramenofsky and Cynthia Herhahn. University of Colorado Press. 

(forthcoming) Comanche New Mexico. In The Archaeology of the Colonial Period in the American Southwest, edited by John Douglass. University of Colorado Press. (Severin Fowles, Jimmy Arterberry, Heather Atherton, and Lindsay Montgomery)

2014. On torture in societies against the state. In Violence and Civilization, edited by Rod Campbell. Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU Press.

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.  The absence of modernity. 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 Anthropology 52(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 Antiquity 74(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.

Office Hours: 

Tuesdays 3-5 pm and by appointment


PhD, Michigan (2004)

BA, Dartmouth (1993)