Severin Fowles

Tow Associate Professor, Anthropology

Chair, Department of Anthropology

Director, American Studies Program

Director, Archaeology Track in Anthropology

As an archaeologist, my research takes up questions of religion, visual culture, cultural landscapes, indigeneity, Native American studies, and the archaeology of the present. 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, to excavations at a Spanish colonial village, to 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 upon this history to critically reevaluate the secular premises that adhere to archaeological claims about premodern religion. My second book, Comanche Afterimages: Visual Culture and History in Northern New Mexico (in prep), builds from my ongoing landscape surveys in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, in the course of which I and my colleagues have discovered of a major distribution of elaborate early eighteenth century rock art panels in the Plains Biographic style. Working collaboratively with members of the Comanche Nation, I am 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.

On campus at Barnard, I direct the Archaeology Track in the Barnard Anthropology Department, and I teach 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, 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.

Academic Focus: 

materiality, religion, visual culture, cultural landscapes, indigeneity, Native American studies, the 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: 

2015-2017. 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. 

Professional Affiliations: 

Society for American Archaeology, American Anthropological Association



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

(2016). Oxford Handbook of Southwest Archaeology, edited by Barbara Mills and Severin Fowles. Oxford University Press.

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

Articles and Chapters

(2017)  Taos social history: a rhizomatic account. To appear in New Perspectives on the Pueblos II, edited by Peter Whiteley. School for Advanced Research Press.

(2017)  Staging the Passion in a pagan land. To appear in Place and Performance: Theorizing Architectural Spaces in the Ancient World(s), edited by Ömür Harmanah and Catherine Becker. Routledge, New York. (Severin Fowles and Darryl Wilkinson)

(2017) Comanche New Mexico: the eighteenth century. To appear 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)

(2016)  On history in Southwest archaeology. To appear in Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the American Southwest, edited by Barbara Mills and Severin Fowles. Oxford University Press. (Severin Fowles and Barbara Mills)

(2016)  Surface revelations: epistemologies and ecologies of rock art. To appear in Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader, edited by Gretchen Bakke and Marina Peterson. Bloomsbury. (Severin Fowles and Benjamin Alberti)

(2016)  Pueblo emergence on the Taos frontier. To appear in Social Identity in Frontier and Borderland Communities, edited by Karen Harry and Sarah Herr. University Press of Colorado.

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.

2015    Foreword. The Chaco Meridian, by Stephen Lekson, pp. xvi. AltaMira 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 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.

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. 

Office Hours: 

Wednesdays 2-4 pm and by appointment


PhD, Michigan (2004)

BA, Dartmouth (1993)

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