Anthropology 235:  Ancient Civilization in the Americas

Department of Anthropology, SUNY Geneseo

Fall 2013


Class Meetings:  Monday and Wednesday 10- 11:15 am Welles 24

Instructor:  Dr. James Aimers

Office:  Sturges Hall 13H

Office Hours:

Please visit me 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:

Monday 2:30- 4 pm

Thursday 2:30- 4 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)

Miller, Mary Ellen

            2012  The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec.  5th ed. Thames and Hudson, New York


Stone-Miller, Rebecca

            2012  Art of the Andes:  From Chavin to Inca.  3rd ed, Thames and Hudson, 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 Review (450 words posted on wiki)                              10%                                        

3- 5 minute summary of your article review in class                  5%

Midterm 1                                                                                 10%                

Midterm 2                                                                                 10 %

Object Analysis (600 words posted on wiki)                             20 %                                       

Final Exam (cumulative, with 450 word essay question)          20 %


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.



Online Reading Tests

You will complete online reading tests on the assigned chapters from the two required texts (Miller [2012] and Stone-Miller [2012]) and for the readings for Weeks 2 and 10 (Overview Chapters).  Online tests are usually due by 11:55 pm the Sunday before the readings are discussed in class.  You may ignore 2 of these tests during the semester without penalty.  If you do 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.


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.  Most of the in-class questions will be about the assigned readings other than Miller (2006) and Stone-Miller (2012). 


Article Review (written) and Overview (oral, in class).

You will sign up for a topic in the first two weeks.  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.  You can sign up for a topic and week to present on it here:


More details are posted on the MyCourses website in a document called “Written Assignments”


Object Analysis

See the “Written Assignments” document on the MyCourses website.


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:  Monday August 26, Wednesday August 28

Introduction:  Latin America., Anthropology, Archaeology, and Art History


Miller (2012): Preface and Chapter 1: Introduction

Stone-Miller (2012): Preface and Chapter 1: Introduction

In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Ashmore, Wendy, and Robert Sharer

                        2006 Introduction.  In Discovering Our Past, pp. 1-24.  McGraw-Hill, Boston.

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

  • Kottak chapter will be relevant for students without background in anthropology.
  • Note that the online test for Chapter 16:  Mesoamerican Civilization  (see Week 2) is due by 11:55 pm  Tuesday September 3
  • Plagiarism quiz in MyCourses-> Course Materials -> Online tests due 11:55 pm Tuesday, Sept 3


Week 2:  Wednesday September 4 only; Monday September 2 is Labor Day

Overview of the Origins and Development of Mesoamerican Civilization


In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Webster, David, and Susan Toby Evans

                        2009   Chapter 16:  Mesoamerican Civilization.  In The Human Past, edited by Chris           

                        Scarre, pp.  594-639.  Thames and Hudson, London.

  • Note that the online test for Miller Chapter 2 (see Week 3) is due by 11:55 pm  Sunday September 8


Week 3:  September 9 and 11

The Olmec


Miller (2012) Chapter 2:  The Olmecs.

  • Online tests continue for all readings from Stone-Miller (2012) and Miller (2006) as usual for the rest of the course. There is also a test for the Week 10 reading.
  • First oral presentations on  article reviews.


Week 4:  September 16 and 18

The Preclassic Maya


            Miller (2012) Chapter 3: The Late Formative

In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Freidel, D. A. and L. Schele

                        1988    Kingship in the Late Preclassic Maya Lowlands: The Instruments and Places of          Ritual Power. American Anthropologist 90:547-567.

  • This article is something of a classic now.  The authors suggest that emerging Maya elites used sacred architecture and objects to legitimate their right to rule.



Week 5:  September 23 and 25

Note that the online test for Miller Chapter 6 (Week 6) is due after the midterm (11:55 pm Tues. Oct. 1



            Miller (2012) Chapter 4: Teotihuacan


Week 6: September 30 and October 2

  • Midterm 1 on Monday covers Weeks 1-5

The Classic Maya


            Miller (2012) Chapter 6:  The Early Classic Maya

In Course Materials (MyCourses)

            Reents-Budet, D.

            2000    Feasting among the Classic Maya: Evidence from the Pictorial Ceramics. In The Maya           Vase Book vol. 6, edited by B. Kerr and J. Kerr, pp. 1032-1037. Kerr Associates, New York.

  • This article uses pottery, architecture, and contextualized artifact data to reconstruct the activities of a Maya royal court.  Go to and use the Kerr Maya vase database to view high quality images of the vases mentioned in the article :


Week 7:  October 7 and 9 

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


The Late and Terminal Classic Maya

Miller (2012) Chapter 7:  The Late Classic Maya


In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Aimers, James J.

                        2007    What Maya Collapse?   Terminal Classic Variation in the Maya Lowlands.                              Journal of Archaeological Research 15:329-357

  • This is a long, dense article but it will give you an idea of the complexity of the Maya “collapse” and its regional variability.  Read pp. 329- to the top of 334 closely; skim regional summaries pp. 334- to the top of 346; read pp. 346-352 closely.
  • Video:  Cracking the Maya Code.  (52 minutes)
  • This video indicates the complexities and playfulness of Maya writing as well as a sense of the fascinating personalities involved in its decipherment including Tatiana Proskouriakoff, , J. Eric Thompson, Yuri Knorosov, Linda Schele (who died of cancer shortly after the video was made, a great loss to Maya archaeology), and David Stuart.  It ends with an indication of how archaeologists, linguists, and epigraphers have contributed to a renaissance of interest in the Maya script among the Maya themselves.   You might want to explore the PBS website as well.




Week 8:  Wednesday October 16 only; Monday is fall break 2013

Postclassic Maya


Pendergast, David M.

                        1985    Stability through change:  Lamanai, Belize, from the Ninth to the       Seventeenth Century. In Late Lowland Maya Civilization:  Classic to Postclassic, edited by J. A. Sabloff and E. W. Andrews V, pp. 223-249. School of American           Research, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

  • You don’t need to remember building names etc. but read this for a good archaeological overview of the Postclassic at Lamanai, a site that did not collapse.  Pendergast is a very good writer—by archaeological standards, anyway!
  • First draft of Object Analysis due on wiki by Tuesday  October 15 at 8 am


Week 9:  October  21 and 23

The Aztecs

Miller (2012) Chapter 9:  The Atecs

  • Note that the online test for Chapter 17:  From Village to Empire in South America (see Week 10) is due by 11:55 pm  Sunday October 27.


Week 10:  October 28 and 30

Overview of the Origins and Development of South American Civilization  


Review reading from Week 1, Stone-Miller (20012): Preface and Chapter 1: Introduction

In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Moseley, Michael, and Michael Heckenberger

2009        Chapter 17:  From Village to Empire in South America.  In The Human Past, edited by Chris Scarre, pp. 640-677.  Thames and Hudson, London.

  • Read to page 667 ONLY (Amazonian sections not required).


Week 11: November 4 and 6

Midterm 2 Monday Covers Weeks 6-10



Stone-Miller (2012) Chapter 2:  Early and Chavin Art

In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Richardson, James B.

1994      Chapter 5:  The Age of the Jaguar Cult. In People of the Andes,pp. 80-99.  Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C..

  • Read pp. 80-96 only



Week 12:  Monday November 11; No class Wednesday I will be en route to Calgary

Paracas and Nazca

            Stone-Miller (2012) Chapter 3: Paracas and Nazca


  • Final draft of Object Analysis project is due online by 8 am Monday November 18. More details are posted on the MyCourses website in a document called “Written Assignments”
  • Wednesday, watch the online video:  The Lost Pyramids of Caral (49 minutes)
  • The video deals with a big question relevant to our course—why do people settle down into cities, states, and civilizations? You might want to refer to page 646-651 of Moseley and Heckenberger’s Chapter 17 (in Scarre, ed) for some background. The site called “Casma” in the video is Cerro Sechin



Week 13:  November 18 and 20

  • Final draft of Object Analysis project is due online by 8 am Monday November 18.

The Moche


Stone-Miller (2012) Chapter 4:  Moche

Film to be announced.

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 14:  November 25 only; Thanksgiving Break begins Wednesday



            Stone-Miller (2012) Chapter 5:  Tiwanaku and Wari

In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Richardson, James B.

                        1994    Chapter 7:  The Staff God Rules. In People of the Andes, pp. 120-131 ONLY.                                    Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C..


  • Wari sections not required in either reading


Week 15:  December 2 and 4

The Inca

Stone-Miller (2012) Chapter 7:  Inca 

In Course Materials (MyCourses):

            Richardson, James B.

                        1994    Chapter 9:  The Ultimate Empire. In People of the Andes, pp. 151-165.                    

                        Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C..


Week 16:  Monday December 9 is last day of class

  • Final comments and review.


Final Exam:  8-11 am Wednesday December 11, 2013  in regular room.