Research

Ongoing Research Projects

ARC Research Around the Global

Archaeology is publicly imagined as the discovery of ancient civilizations. However, a range of disciplines, from anthropology and history, through genetics and ecology, acknowledge archaeology’s key contribution to tracing the human career on the planet. UC Santa Cruz ARC research spans the earth. ARC faculty, postdocs, and graduate students lead research projects in the Andes, the Caribbean, Europe, the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, and Western North America, contributing a truly global vantage point from which to understand our collective past. 

See what our faculty has been working on by opening each accordion below!

Revisiting the Lost Adobe of Mission Santa Cruz

Revisiting the Lost Adobe of Mission Santa Cruz
eight glass beads of different sizes

Director: Dr. Tsim Schneider 

Under the direction of the late Rob Edwards, Cabrillo College archaeologists excavated a section of the Native family housing at Mission Santa Cruz in the early 1980s; however, the materials were never fully analyzed and a report was never prepared.

Forty years later, Dr. Tsim Schneider received permission to revisit the “Lost Adobe” collection, reanalyze some materials, and prepare a final report on the archaeology, ethnohistory, and Indigenous history of this place.

With support from a Hellman Fellows Fund, some aspects of the project are complete, including qualitative and quantitative (LA-ICP-MS) analysis of a glass bead sample (see “Unpacking the Bead” by D.L. Dadiego, A. Gelinas, T.D. Schneider, 2021) and Reflectance Transformation Imaging and analysis of an unusual clay figurine (see “‘Raiders of the Lost Adobe’ Part 2” by T.D. Schneider).

Analysis and reporting of other parts of the collection continues. The final report will be coauthored with Dr. Martin Rizzo-Martinez (Film & Digital Media Department, UC Santa Cruz) and is in an early planning phase.

Saclo Village Archaeology

Saclo Village Archaeology
Saclo field site landscape of grass and trees
two students in the field, in a red clay pit, digging

Director: Professor J. Cameron Monroe

Archaeological research in West Africa has long privileged the study of major urban centers and political capitals, leaving the broader landscape of village communities poorly understood. Saclo Village Archaeology, a collaboration between the University of California Santa Cruz and the University of Abomey-Calavi, examines the growth, development, and transformation of the village of Saclo on the Abomey Plateau. Today Saclo is located in the Commune of Bohicon, south of Bohicon itself. Historically, however, the village rested south east of Abomey and northwest of Cana two major urban centers of Dahomey, as well as west of the ancient site of Sodohomé. The site thus rests in between three major urban communities with histories spanning the second millennium AD. 

Launched in 2022, Saclo Village Archaeology seeks to understand how villages on the Abomey Plateau adapted and transformed during the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the rise of the Kingdom of Dahomey. Preliminary survey and excavations in 2022 identified the limits of settlement and continuous settlement dating back to the early 2nd millennium AD. These results suggest that Saclo has the potential to illuminate the dynamic and transforming nature of village settlement over the longue durée, contributing a valuable new perspective on the cultural history of the region.

This project is in collaboration with Didier N’Dah, Universiteé d’Abomey Calavi and has been funded through the UC-HBCU Graduate Pathways Grant.

Abomey Plateau Archeological Project, Republic of Benin

Abomey Plateau Archeological Project, Republic of Benin
aerial view of site in Benin
Abomey Plateau Archeological Project, Republic of Benin map with legend of palace complexes, urban centers, palace towns, rural villages, and slave encampments dotted on greenspace

Director: Professor J. Cameron Monroe

Prior to intensive contact with European merchants in the seventeenth century this region of coastal West Africa was dotted with multiple small, centralized kingdoms and stateless societies.  These societies were iron producing, farming and fishing communities. Most were settled in large communities, linked into long-distance exchange networks with expansive Savannah polities to the north, and were both ready and willing to engage in commerce with Europeans on an equal footing.  As Atlantic commerce intensified over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, coastal West Africa became dotted with European trading forts seeking a firmer footing in the West African slave trade.  As a consequence, the balance of economic power in the region began a three-century process of shifting south from the Savannah to the coast, resulting in the expansion and consolidation of large centralized states across the region.

West Africa civilizations thereby became closely entangled within global economic forces unleashed by Atlantic commerce.  Available historical evidence clearly indicates that this process had dramatic consequences for the nature of settlement across West Africa.  Royal capitals of those kingdoms actively engaged in the Atlantic slave trade expanded rapidly, providing safe haven both for those fleeing slave-raiding neighbors as well as for those profiting from the new economic opportunities introduced by Atlantic commerce.  New towns emerged rapidly in the interior to control important nodes in emerging regional exchange systems. Populations flocked to the European trading forts on the coast, resulting in towns with populations in the tens of thousands, far surpassing the largest contemporary colonial settlements in North America. The result was a radically transformed network of urban centers, adapted to both maintaining order within their territories and facilitating trade with the Atlantic word.

Under the direction of J. Cameron Monroe, the Abomey Plateau Archaeological Project has explored the dynamics of political and economic transformation in slave trade era West Africa since 2000.  Adopting a landscape approach to this issue, regional survey and excavation has focused on understanding the long-term settlement history of the pre-colonial Kingdom of Dahomey, example of a West African centralized state par excellence and one of principle African partners in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Milot Archaeological Project, Haiti

Milot Archaeological Project, Haiti
aerial view of site in Haiti with view of castle in background, with view of hills in foreground
three people working on site in Haiti, one pointing toward a divider in the site

Director: Professor J. Cameron Monroe

State formation has been a central focus archaeological research for over a century. Whereas scholars once emphasized the functional role of political institutions, archaeologists now focus on the strategies deployed by elites to control social interactions, providing new perspectives on the practice of power in the past. This intellectual turn has encouraged a shift in focus from macropolitical structure, to the micropolitics of power, one in which spatial archaeologies of power are increasingly visible. The Milot Archaeological Project (MAP) is examining an example of state formation from the early modern Atlantic World: the short-lived Kingdom of Haiti (1811-20), which emerged in the years after the Haitian Revolution. The MAP uses architectural analysis to answer two essential question: (1) did royal architecture in Haiti materialize a sharp break with, or rather did it draw symbolically from earlier sites of power in the region, and (2) was royal architecture primarily intended to communicate public political statements, or was it implicated in broader attempts to formalized and routinize everyday social life in the kingdom?

In partnership with the Institut de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine National (ISPAN), the Milot Archaeological Project (MAP) is conducing research in Haiti’s Parc National Historique du Nord. In its preliminary phase of research, the project is focusing attention on the UNESCO World Heritage site Sans-Souci, a central place the Kingdom of Haiti. Over the long-term, the MAP will use documentary and archaeological evidence to explore the relationship between architecture and power in the Kingdom of Haiti at multiple scales of analysis: (1) the royal palace Sans-Souci, (2) the neighboring town of Milot and, (3) various palaces, fortresses, and plantation sites distributed across its hinterland.

This project has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic, and the Archaeological Institute of America, and the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (University of Arkansas)

3D Saqqara Egypt

3D Saqqara Egypt
3D model rendering of ancient Egyptian cemetery of Saqqara
modern day image of ancient Egyptian cemetery of Saqqara

Director: Professor Elaine Sullivan

The ancient Egyptian cemetery of Saqqara, served as a burial place and cult center for kings, administrators, royal family members, artists, and (less frequently) non-elites over more than 3000 years. Pyramids, mastaba tombs,  and huge funerary enclosures still attest to the site’s original grandeur. But questions relating to the creation and perpetuation of sacred space at Saqqara are difficult for modern researchers to address, due to the degradation of the site.  Years of ancient and modern change to both the built and natural landscape make it difficult for scholars to re-imagine the interaction between ancient place and environment.       

The integration of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and 3D modeling now allows for the recreation and visualization of entire ancient landscapes like Saqqara. The project 3D Saqqara uses these digital capabilities to create a four-dimensional exploration of the cemetery: through both space and time. By simulating the built and natural landscape of the site across thousands of years, the project demonstrates how the nexus between landscape, memory, and identity can be examined in innovative ways. Four-dimensional visualizations of ancient places allow scholars to question how the transformation of such places over time effected peoples’ interpretation and memories of these spaces.

The 3D Saqqara project has been supported by: an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant, 2015-2016; an ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship award, 2012-2013; the W.M. Keck Foundation, as part of UCLA’s Digital Cultural Mapping program; the University of California Santa Cruz, Faculty Research Grant 2014-2015.

Tijeras Ceramic Research Project (New Mexico)

Tijeras Ceramic Research Project (New Mexico)
tijeras ceramic project logo with traditional ceramic pattern surrounding name

Director: Professor Judith Habicht Mauche   

PosterSourcing Western-style Glaze-Painted Pottery from Tijeras Pueblo, NM

Abstract: Interaction between Puebloan Villages from the West-Central to the Rio Grande Regions of New Mexico

Transactions of the American Nuclear Society, Vol. 109,Washington, D.C.,November 10–14, 2013, page 100-101

The late precontact, or Pueblo IV period (A.D. 1275-1400) in the American Southwest was marked by a series of demographic upheavals throughout the Pueblo world that resulted in the formation of a radically new social landscape. Associated with these social transformations are seen dramatic changes in decorated ceramic traditions throughout the Southwest. The spread of these new pottery types required the movement of new technological and social knowledge between communities that influenced not only how decorated pottery was made, but also how and in what contexts it was used and what meanings its daily production and use.

The project was funded by a major multi-year research grant from the National ScienceFoundation (0912154), as well as support from the Academic Senate Committee on Research and the Division of Social Sciences at UCSC. Members of the Friends of Tijeras Pueblo inventoried the collections at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico and helped with ceramic attribute analysis and data entry. Graduate student, Emma Britton, and numerous undergraduate volunteers have also assisted with both field collection of ceramic resources and a variety of lab analyse. Major collaborators on this project include, Linda Cordell, former director of the CU Museum (deceased), Suzanne L. Eckert (Arizona State Museum) and William D. James (Texas A&M). This research has been done with permission from and in consultation with the Cibola National Forest (Sandia District) and the Pueblo of Isleta(Department of Cultural and Historic Preservation).

The Tijeras Ceramic Research Project utilizes a variety of analytical techniques, including attribute analysis, mineralogical and chemical characterization studies, and lead isotope analysis, to examine and characterize ceramic collections from the fourteenth century site of Tijeras Pueblo (AD 1300-1425) in the central Rio Grande region of New Mexico. These data are used to trace the circulation of ideas, techniques, raw materials, and finished objects through inter-regional networks of social interaction and shared cultural practices. In turn, the project explores how these networks functioned as conduits that facilitated migration and acted as arenas of social production that transformed practices of community and identity among the Ancestral Eastern Pueblos during the late precontact period.

Archaeology of Colonial Marin

Archaeology of Colonial Marin
Colonial marin coin with faded imprint
Surveyor measuring colonial marin

Director: Dr. Tsim Schneider 

With funding from National Science Foundation and American Philosophical Society grants, in this multi-year, collaborative project Dr. Schneider and project Co-Director, Dr. Lee Panich (Santa Clara University), seek to evaluate indigenous autonomy on Central California’s Marin Peninsula, a geographic zone in which indigenous Coast Miwok groups persisted along the intersecting frontiers of Spanish, Russian, Mexican, and American colonialism during the period 1770-1860. It is thought that selective engagement with diverse colonial institutions—including missionary, mercantile, and settler colonial programs—stimulated the development of distinct local political economies, reflecting different levels of situated autonomy for native communities across the peninsula.

With permission from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and Audubon Canyon Ranch, two seasons of archaeological fieldwork have already been completed at key sites along Tomales Bay, including the site of a mid-1800s trading post and place of native refuge and recourse. To complement these new excavations, previously excavated materials from additional archaeological sites are being reexamined. The project will ultimately involve (1) ethnohistorical research and oral history interviews with Graton Rancheria Citizens; (2) a large-scale obsidian provenance study and inter-site comparison of other archaeological materials to assess indigenous exchange networks and external economic connections during the colonial era; (3) a rigorous dating program for establishing regional trends in site use and reuse; and (4) a seasonality study to detect small-scale patterns in Coast Miwok mobility.