Making their mark

Graduate students contribute teaching and research to the Chaco Digital Initiative.

By Elizabeth Wilkerson (MA, English '86)
This is an image of Chaco Canyon

Katie Bray, Carrie Heitman and Nick Radko photograph records of stabilization carried out on centuries-old Anasazi ruins.
Photo by Tom Cogill.

Three graduate teaching assistants — Carrie Heitman, Abby Holeman and Adam Watson — guided the J-term students in their work on the Chaco Digital Initiative. And all three are making their own mark on Chaco scholarship. Heitman, who has been concentrating on Chaco, and Holeman, whose main interests lie in northern Mexico, made a significant discovery last fall at the American Museum of Natural History.

Heitman is interested in two burial mounds referred to in early accounts of the canyon. “People had tried to find them without success,” she says.

But she and Holeman found photos in the museum collection that helped them find “the one that was most extensively excavated and written about” and also had been looted extensively.

“Part of the mystery of Chaco is how many people lived here,” Heitman says. Given the small number of documented burials, she speculates that remains could have been disturbed by looters, exposed to the elements and then just disappeared.

Watson is writing his thesis on the relationship between the small house sites and the great houses at Chaco and the hunting practices and diet of people who lived there.

“I look at a lot of trash,” he says with a grin. The animal bones he finds indicate that “there’s a difference throughout the canyon in what people are eating.”

Their work on the digital archive will help others further decipher the clues to Chaco and the people who lived there. “Without time and resources to actually slog through the archives,” says Heitman, “it’s hard to really gain much ground in those mysteries.”