Architecture and the Organization of Labor at Tsegi Phase (AD 1250-1300) Cliff Dwellings, Navajo National Monument

Departmental News

Posted:  Oct 30, 2020 - 11:00am

Katie Williams, Archaeology graduate student, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant  for her project entitled Architecture and the Organization of Labor at Tsegi Phase (AD 1250-1300) Cliff Dwellings, Navajo National Monument.  Katie will use the award to fund travel to record architecture and her analysis of plasters in Betatakin and Keet Seel. 


Katharine Williams, of the University of New Mexico, under the supervision of Dr. Patricia Crown, will conduct her dissertation research on how labor was organized to produce and maintain architecture. When people construct buildings, they work together in groups that may consist of friends, relatives, neighbors, or even professionals. Examining the organization of architectural labor can reveal how people interact with their communities and how they manage their time and resources. Information on architectural production can also supplement studies of social organization, economic and non-architectural labor strategies, and site occupation histories. This research project expands on traditional archaeological studies of architecture with a special focus on the earthen materials used in construction. Earthen plasters and mortars have the potential to provide significant information about the technological and materials knowledge of builders. In focusing on earthen materials in addition to other elements of architecture, this research will establish analytical and sampling strategies that can guide historic preservation planning; produce a record of site condition baselines useful for monitoring and stabilizing the non-renewable archaeological record held in trust for the public by the National Park Service (NPS); and supplement previous architectural analyses conducted in Tsegi Canyon. Detailed analyses of plasters also contribute to larger international discussions on the impact of climate change on cultural resources. The study provides training for Ms. Williams, who is a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and will also provide training in architectural documentation and operation of laboratory equipment for an undergraduate student. 

 Ms. Williams will document and examine architectural elements (including walls, roofs, floors, doorways, plasters, and hearths) to identify patterns in material use, construction techniques, and plaster recipes at two cliff dwellings (Betatakin and Keet Seel) in Navajo National Monument, located in Northeast Arizona on the Navajo Nation. Both villages were occupied in the late 1200s for less than forty years. Ms. Williams and an undergraduate assistant studying archaeology will document and photograph the architecture. After completion of the documentation, small (1-2 cm2) samples of selected earthen construction materials (such as plasters and mortars) will be collected and analyzed at the University of New Mexico with a combination of geochemical and petrographic methods. The goal of the laboratory analyses is to refine knowledge of the technological choices made by the people who lived at these sites, the extent to which people shared their construction knowledge and plaster recipes with their neighbors, and to evaluate the diversity of materials used in construction.