Anthropology 235 (Section 01):  Ancient Civilization of Mesoamerica and the Andes

(Formerly Ancient Civilization in the Americas)

Department of Anthropology, SUNY Geneseo

Autumn 2015


Class Meetings:  Tuesday and Thursday 11:30- 12:45 Bailey 102

Instructor:  Dr. James Aimers            

Office: Bailey 148

Office Hours:

Please visit me at Bailey 148 if you have any questions regarding the content or organization of the course, or for reasons related to your academic progress in general.  My office hours are:

Wednesday 2:30-3:30 pm

Tuesday/Thursday 12:50-1:50  pm

You can also meet with me by e-mailing for an appointment 2-3 days in advance.

E-mail:  Questions I can answer in three sentences or so can be e- mailed, but please speak to me for more complex questions and problems.  I read e-mail as often as possible     but please allow 1-2 days for a response, not including weekends and holidays.  Please include ANTH 235 and a topic in the subject line and sign your message.


Office Phone: 245-5276


Course Objectives:

This class is a study of Precolumbian societies in Middle America and the Andes. Our focus will be state-level organizations.  Major Precolumbian societies are explored through the analysis and interpretation of material culture.


Learning Outcomes:

In this course students will demonstrate

  • Familiarity with the differences between ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes and the diversity of cultures in each of these areas.
  • The ability to place the major Mesoamerican and Andean prehistoric cultures in time and space.
  • The ability to identify important Mesoamerican and Andean art and architecture.
  • The ability to identify, acquire, and evaluate scholarly and peer-reviewed sources.
  • The ability to present archaeological research to other members of the class.


Social Science Core

Besides fulfilling your multi-cultural graduation requirements, this course also fulfills one course in the social science general education requirements. The guidelines for a social science core course stress the development of the following characteristics of a responsible member of society:

(1) an acquaintance with major empirical, analytical, or theoretical approaches to human behavior, institutions or culture;

(2) an acquaintance with social, economic, political, or moral alternatives;

(3) an acquaintance with major problems, issues, institutions, practices or trends in the social world;

(4) a capacity to express ideas clearly, coherently and grammatically in written form  as one component of the evaluation process. This written work must total at least 1500 words, at least half of which must be prepared outside of class.



SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented physical, emotional or learning disabilities. Students should consult with the Director in the Office of Disability Services (Tabitha Buggie-Hunt, 105D Erwin, and their individual faculty regarding any needed accommodations as early as possible in the semester.


Required Books (all other readings are in MyCourses à Course Materials)

Coe, Michael D., and Rex Koontz

2013    Mexico:  From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, 7 th ed.  Thames and Hudson, New York.


Quilter, Jeffrey

            2014    The Ancient Central Andes.  Routledge, New York.


MyCourses Website

If you do not check your Geneseo e-mail account you will not receive announcements and updates from me through MyCourses.


Value of Course Components

Attendance and class participation (you will record this)                          10 %

Online reading tests                                                                                 15%

Article Annotation (400 words)                                                                 15%    

Key Issues (250 words plus references)                                                  10%

Midterm 1                                                                                                  10 %               

Midterm 2                                                                                                  10 %

Object Analysis (400 words posted on wiki) with class presentation        15 %                           

Final Exam (cumulative, with 450 word essay question)                           15 %


Grading Scheme

A   =  94% +

A - =  90 -  93.99 %

B+ =  87 - 89.99 %

B   =  83 - 86.99 %

B - =  80 - 82.99 %

C+ =  77  - 79.99 %

C   =  73 - 76.99 %

C - =  68 - 72.99 %

D   =  58 - 67.99 %

E  = 0 - 57.99 %


My grading criteria (what earns an A, etc.) can be found in Course Materials (MyCourses)

Geneseo Undergraduate Bulletin (2011:38):   “Final grades are recorded as A, A- (excellent); B+, B, B- (very good); C+, C (satisfactory); C- (minimal competence); D (marginal); E (failure); F (failure in courses elected under the pass-fail option which are not completed successfully); P (pass in courses elected under the pass-fail option which are completed successfully; P is equivalent to a grade of C- or higher); S (satisfactory is equivalent to a grade of C- or higher); U (unsatisfactory); and W (withdrawn).“


Assignments, Attendance and Lateness

Regular attendance is the easiest way to ensure success on this course.  Please arrive on time.

Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day, including weekends.

Make-up tests and exams are available only under extraordinary circumstances, and will require medical or other documentation.


Library Research Help

            I strongly encourage you to use the Milne Reference Librarians for assistance with your research for this class. You can speak with the reference librarian on duty between 10am and closing time most days (ask for help at the service desk) or chat with a librarian online by clicking the "IM a Librarian" button on the library website ( You can also request an in-person meeting (  Our new social sciences librarian is Brandon West



Attendance and Participation

You will track your attendance and participation on a form I will give you in the first week.  Please bring it to every class.  Your grade will be calculated in proportion to the participation and attendance of the other students in the class.  If you are apprehensive about participation please contact me to discuss participation strategies.


Online Reading Tests

You will complete online reading tests on the assigned chapters from the two required texts (Coe and Koontz [2013] amd Quilter [2014]).  Online tests are usually due by 11:55 pm the Sunday before the readings are discussed in class.  You can take each test three times and the software will record the highest score.  You may ignore 2 of these tests during the semester without penalty.  If you complete all the tests I will drop your lowest 2 scores.  These tests can be found in the Online Tests section in Course Materials (MyCourses).  The best strategy to succeed with these tests is to do the appropriate reading first and then complete the tests while referring to the reading.  Note that the MyCourses grade display on the course homepage is usually inaccurate for your overall score and the class average for these tests.  Use the “Report” function to get accurate grades.


Key Issue Report (250 words plus references)

Beginning in Week 4, for each chapter of each of the two course texts, three or four students will write up a brief overview of a major issue from that specific chapter.  There is a sign-up list is here:

Each student should prepare a Word document with a concise overview of the issue with a minimum of three scholarly or peer-reviewed sources (not including our texts). This document should be emailed to me by 6 am the day the chapter will be discussed (at 6.01 am the normal 5% per day late penalty will be applied). Students who submitted a summary will be expected to contribute to the classroom discussion but a formal presentation will not be required.   See the Written Assignments document in MyCourses for more detail. 


Article Annotation (400 words)          

You write short summary of a scholarly or peer-reviewed article or chapter.  You should post the summary to the class wiki.  To find the class space on the wiki, go to the Geneseo wiki:  Login at the top right of screen (with your usual ID and password), then scroll down the left side of the screen.   More details are posted on the MyCourses website in a document called “Written Assignments”


Object Analysis (400 words)

You will write an anthropological analysis of an object or style of object and post it to our wiki space.  If you choose a specific object, it cannot be an object that is discussed in detail in the course texts.  You will be expected to introduce the object (with a photo on the wiki) during the class in which we discuss its cultural origin.  The final write up will be due near the end of the semester. Sign up for a cultural area/period here:

For more information see the Written Assignments document in MyCourses. There is also a grading rubric in MyCourses.




Academic Honesty

Students are urged to read the policies on Academic Honesty at:  As the policy notes:

“Any one of the following constitutes evidence of plagiarism:

  • direct quotation without identifying punctuation and citation of source;
  • paraphrase of expression or thought without proper attribution;
  • unacknowledged dependence upon a source in plan, organization, or argument.”


I also consider reusing your own work from another class to be plagiarism.  I take academic honesty very seriously and I follow up on instances of cheating and plagiarism to the fullest extent that the university allows.  If I believe the offense is very serious, I can—and will—recommend suspension or dismissal to the Student Conduct Board.


Facebook-Free Zone

Please respect our classroom time and use your laptop only to take notes in class.  You are not permitted to access Facebook, other social networking sites, play games, etc. in my class.  I have adopted this rule because photos and moving images distract other students.  I will deduct participation points for disruptive computer use, texting, etc.


Topics and Readings

You are responsible for each week’s readings and you should be prepared to discuss them.  I take questions at any time during lectures, so please feel free to raise your hand.


Week 1:  Tuesday Sept 1, Thursday Sept 3

Introduction:  Ancient Latin America, Anthropology, and Archaeology

Quilter (2014): Chapter 1, Backgrounds

Optional In Course Materials (MyCourses):

Kottak, Conrad Phillip 1999  Chapter 3, Culture.  In Mirror for Humanity, 6th Edition,                  pp. 42-58.  McGraw- Hill, Boston.

  • The Kottak chapter will be relevant for students without a background in anthropology.
  • Note that the online test for Quilter (2014) Chapter 1 and Coe and Koontz (2013) Preface and Chapter 1, Introduction  (see Week 2) are both due by 11:55 pm  Sunday, Sept 6


Week 2:  Tuesday September 8, Thursday September 10

Coe and Koontz (2013): Preface and Chapter 1, Introduction

Quilter (2014) Chapter 2, Space Time and Form (this test due Wed Sept 9 11:55 pm)

  • Online test for Quilter (2014) Chapter 3 (see Week 3) due by 11:55 pm  Sunday September 13
  • Plagiarism quiz in MyCourses-> Course Materials -> Online tests due 11:55 pm Sunday, Sept 13


Week 3:  September 15 ONLY, I will be at the Maya at the Playa Conference on Thursday

Andes 1

Quilter (2014) Chapter 3, The Early and Middle Preceramic Periods 

THURSDAY:  watch The Lost Pyramids of Caral (49 minutes)

  • The film deals with a big question relevant to our course—why do people settle down into cities, states, and civilizations? The site called “Casma” in the video is also called Cerro Sechin
  • Online tests continue for all readings as usual for the rest of the course. Note that two are due on Sunday Sept 20.


Week 4:  September 22 and 24

Andes 2:

Quilter (2014) Chapter 4, The Late Preceramic Period

Quilter (2014) Chapter 5, The Initial Period (Group 1)

•     Annotated Bibliography entries are due by class time Thursday Sept 24.


Week 5:  September 29 and October 1

Andes 3

Quilter (2014) Chapter 6, The Early Horizon (Group 2)

Quilter (2014) Chapter 7, The Early Intermediate Period (Group 3)


Week 6: October 6 and 8

Andes 4

  • Midterm 1 on Tuesday covers Weeks 1-5

In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Weismantel, M.

                        2004    Moche Sex Pots:  Reproduction and Temporality in Ancient South     America. American Anthropologist 106(3):495-505.

  • This article is an ambitious attempt to explain ceramics that have perplexed (and embarrassed) archaeologists and art historians for decades.  Give yourself some time to read it.


Week 7:  Thursday October 15 ONLY; Tuesday is fall break.  

Andes 5

Quilter (2014) Chapter 8:  The Middle Horizon (Group 4) (test due Wed Oct 14 11:55 pm)

  • First draft of Object Analysis due on wiki by Thursday October 15 at 8 am. More details are posted on the MyCourses website in a document called “Written Assignments”


Week 8:  October 20 and 22

Andes 6           

Quilter (2014) Chapter 9:  The Late Intermediate Period (Group 5)

Quilter (2014) Chapter 10:  The Late Horizon (Group 6)


Week 9:  October 27 and 29

Mesoamerica 1

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 2, Early Hunters (Group 7)

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 3, The Archaic Period (Group 8)


Week 10:  November 3 and 5

Mesoamerica 2

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 4, The Preclassic Period:  Early Villagers (Group 9)

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 5, The Preclassic Period:  Early Civilizations (Group 10)


Week 11: November 10 and 12

Mesoamerica 3

Midterm 2 Tuesday Covers Weeks 6-10

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 6, The Classic Period (Group 11) (test due after the midterm Wednesday Nov 11 11:55 pm)

  • Final version of Object Analysis is due online by 8 am Monday November 16. More details are posted on the MyCourses website in a document called “Written Assignments”


Week 12:  November 17 and 19

Mesoamerica 4:  The Maya

McKillop, Heather

            2004    Origins, Growth, and Decline of the Maya Civilization. In The Ancient Maya:  New Perspectives, pp. 71-113. Norton, New York.  Note that you do not have to read all the sections of this chapter.

  • Final version of Object Analysis is due online by 8 am Monday November 16.


Week 13:  Tuesday November 24 ONLY Thanksgiving break begins Wednesday Nov 25

Mesoamerica 5

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 7, The Epiclassic Period (Group 12)


Week 14:  Tuesday December 1, Thursday December 3

Mesoamerica 6

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 8, The Post-Classic Period:  The Toltec State (Group 13)

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 9, The Post-Classic Period:  Rival States (Group 14)


Week 15:  December 8 and 10

Mesoamerica 7

Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 10, The Aztecs in 1519 (Group 15)

Coe and Koontz (2013) Epilogue



Final Exam:  8-11 am Monday December 21, 2015 in our regular room.