Anthropology 235:  Ancient Civilization in the Americas

Department of Anthropology, SUNY Geneseo

Fall 2014


Class Meetings:  Tuesday and Thursday 11:30- 12:45 Welles 123

Instructor:  Dr. James Aimers            

Teaching Assistant:  Maya Fischer

Office:  Sturges Hall 13H

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 12-1 pm

Thursday 1 -1:45  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%

Group Chapter Review (250 words per student, plus class presentation)            15%                

Article Annotation (250 words)                                                                       10%    

Midterm 1                                                                                            10%                

Midterm 2                                                                                            10 %

Object Analysis (500 words posted on wiki) with class presentation     15 %                           

Final Exam (cumulative, with 500 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 contact the Milne Librarian dedicated to Anthropology, Kim Hoffman, by emailing her ( or requesting an in-person meeting (



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.  Be aware that if you choose not to participate you should expect a low grade in this area.


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 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.


Group Chapter Review (250 words per student, plus class presentation)           

In groups of 3 or 4 you will create a study guide for one of the chapters from the two required texts.  This should be presented to the class as a PowerPoint presentation and it should be an integrated whole.  At least 48 hours prior to the class you should attach the PowerPoint to a page on the ANTH 235 wiki.  Your presentation should give an overview of the key developments covered in the chapter (e.g., key sites, key cultural innovations) with images.  You will also discuss your article annotation. You should try to engage the class through discussion topics and question-and-answer.  See the Written Assignments document in MyCourses for more detail.  Any students who are nervous about participating in the classroom discussion are urged to read the PowerPoint before the lecture.


Article Annotation (250 words)          

You write short summary of a scholarly or peer-reviewed article or chapter related to your group chapter review.  You should post the summary to the class wiki and create a link to it in your group PowerPoint.  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

Choose an object related to your Chapter Review.  See the Written Assignments document in MyCourses.  This assignment is due near the end of the semester but you should have chosen an object by the time your group presents,


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 August 26, Thursday August 28

Introduction:  Ancient Latin America, Anthropology, and Archaeology

Quilter (2014): Chapter 1, Backgrounds

In Course Materials (MyCourses):

Optional:  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, August 31
  • Plagiarism quiz in MyCourses-> Course Materials -> Online tests due 11:55 pm Sunday, Sept 3


Week 2:  Tuesday September 2, Thursday September 4

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

  • On Tuesday, librarian Kim Hoffman will visit to discuss research.  Bring a computer.
  • Note that the online test for Quilter (2014) Chapters 2 and 3 (see Week 3) are due by 11:55 pm  Sunday September 7


Week 3:  September 9 and 11

Andes 1

Quilter (2014) Chapter 2, Space Time and Form;

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

  • Online tests continue for all readings as usual for the rest of the course.
  • Annotated Bibliography entries are due by class time Thursday


Week 4:  September 16 and 18

Andes 2:

Quilter (2014) Chapter 4, The Late Preceramic Period

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

  • 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? The site called “Casma” in the video is also called Cerro Sechin.


Week 5:  September 23 and 25

Andes 3

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

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


Week 6: September 30 and October 2

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:  October 7 and 9 

Andes 5

Quilter (2014) Chapter 8:  The Middle Horizon (Group 4)

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

  • First draft of Object Analysis due on wiki by Tuesday,  October 14 at 8 am. More details are posted on the MyCourses website in a document called “Written Assignments”



Week 8:  Thursday October 16 only; Tuesday is fall break 2013

Andes 6         

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


  • First draft of Object Analysis due on wiki by Tuesday, October 14 at 8 am


Week 9:  October  21 and 23

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:  October 28 and 30

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 4 and 6

Mesoamerica 3

Midterm 2 Tuesday Covers Weeks 6-10

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.





Week 12:  Thursday November 13; No class Tuesday, I will be in Mexico City

Mesoamerica 4

  • Tuesday:  Watch this 44 minute film on the Ancient Maya.  I will ask about it on the final exam.
  • Thursday:  Coe and Koontz (2013) Chapter 6, The Classic Period (Group 11)
  • Final version of Object Analysis project is due online by 8 am Monday November 17. More details are posted on the MyCourses website in a document called “Written Assignments”


Week 13:  November 18 and 20

Mesoamerica 5

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

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


  • Final draft of Object Analysis project is due online by 8 am Monday November 17.


Week 14:  November 25 only; Thanksgiving Break begins Wednesday

Mesoamerica 6

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


Week 15:  December 2 and 4

Mesoamerica 7

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

Coe and Koontz (2013) Epilogue



Final Exam:  12- 3pm Thursday December 11, 2014  in regular room.