By Will Ferguson, College of Arts & Sciences

Koehler-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Tim Kohler, regents professor of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology, fell in love with the pinion juniper forests and rugged terrain of the American Southwest’s Four Corners region almost 40 years ago. His research paints a vivid picture of what life was like for the area’s ancient inhabitants and helped unravel the causes behind its massive depopulation at the end of the 13th century.

The American Anthropological Association honored Kohler’s career with the Alfred Vincent Kidder Award for Eminence in the Field of American Archaeology this month in Washington, D.C.

Kohler is the second Washington State University archaeologist to receive the award, placing WSU second only to Harvard (and tied with University of Arizona) in the number of Kidder awards received.

His mentor, professor emeritus William Lipe, received the award in 2010.

“Tim has taken archeological research in the American Southwest to the next level with his modeling approach,” Lipe said. “His work gives us a very tangible way of connecting ourselves with an ancient people undergoing dramatic change.”

A glimpse of life in another time

Kohler is renowned in the archeological world for his use of computer modeling and quantitative analysis of archeological data to understand aspects of prehistoric behavior.

“Using agent-based modeling we can look at how people made a living in their environments from the bottom up,” he said. “We can investigate how much time households spent raising corn to feed their families or getting other resources they needed for survival.

“It allows you to imagine what living in this particular landscape was like for these people thousands of years ago,” he said.

Using the past to navigate the future

Kohler and post-doctoral researcher Kyle Bocinsky’s research reconstructing localized climate change and its effects on the ancestral Pueblo people of southwest Colorado recently appeared in Nature Communications and received widespread news coverage.

“I have always been fascinated with human ecology, and you could say my motivation has been to project human/environment relationships back in time well beyond what we have in the historic records,” Kohler said.

“Archaeology is becoming more computational all the time,” he said. “As we delve deeper, my hope is the archeological record will give us concrete lessons about what worked environmentally and socially in prehistory.

“This in turn could help us to understand the nature of the predicaments we are facing now and will face in the future,” he said.

About the award

Established in 1950, the Alfred Vincent Kidder Award is given every two years to an outstanding archaeologist specializing in the archaeology of the Americas. The award is given alternately to specialists in Mesoamerican archaeology and the archaeology of the southwestern United States.

“Alfred Kidder was the most prestigious archeologist in the first half of the 20th century and I am greatly honored to be given an award in his name,” Kohler said.