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Anthropologist honored by Society for American Archeology
Tuesday, Apr. 27, 2010
PULLMAN - WSU Regents professor of anthropology Timothy A. Kohler received the Society for American Archeology’s (SAA) Excellence in Archaeological Analysis Award on April 16 at the society’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
Kohler received the award for his pioneering research on computational methods in archaeology, focusing on understanding interactions between Pueblo societies and their environments.
Kohler’s award distinguishes WSU as now having two current faculty members who have received this prestigious award. Bill Andrefsky, professor and chair of WSU’s anthropology department also won the award in 2008 for his ground breaking research on stone tool analysis.
“Tim Kohler is richly deserving of this award, recognizing his lifelong research contributions. He achieved national recognition for his research while simultaneously epitomizing the ideal university teacher and citizen. I congratulate him for this award and thank him for all that he has done for his discipline, department, college and university,” said Doug Epperson, dean of WSU’s College of Liberal Arts.
Kohler is known both nationally and internationally for his work in simulation. Currently, he conducts NSF funded research in the Village Ecodynamics Project to investigate the depopulation that occurred in the Mesa Verde region of the American Southwest during the late A.D. 1200s.
Agent based modeling (ABM) helps him to construct virtual landscapes that resemble those of Southwest Colorado in prehistory. Computer simulations recreate important human and environmental factors in the archeological record, which are manipulated in an attempt to resemble the archeological record of the time.
Kohler hopes this research tool will provide answers to such age-old mysteries of the ancient region as whether climate change or warfare led to a sudden mass migration from the region.
“We are trying to understand the way Pueblo societies reacted to environmental changes, and also how they changed their environments,” Kohler said. How societies reacted to climate change more than 800 years ago may help predict contemporary response to global warming.
In the ABMs, virtual households (i.e.,"agents") are placed randomly on the landscape. They interact with the landscape and with other agents according to the rules applied within the simulation. As the landscape changes over time, settlement patterns are created in the models and compared with those known from the archaeological record.
“We are facing climate changes now, caused partly by humans. But now as well as then, climate change caused stress to the coupled social and environmental systems,” Kohler said.
His work also has led to a better understanding of Puebloan demography and to identification of a significant growth spurt in population some 2,500 years after the introduction of maize to the Southwest. In conjunction with the regular use of beans, the arrival of a more productive form of maize correlates with the first appearance of villages in the northern Southwest.
At WSU, Kohler provides leadership in developing Ph.D. training that emphasizes evolutionary modeling, directing the National Science Foundation-funded Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) in Evolutionary Modeling (IPEM), a collaborative project with the University of Washington’s Department of Anthropology and WSU’s School of Biological Sciences.
“Tim is a worthy recipient of this award for his lifelong commitment to modeling human ecodynamics in prehistory and for his work in developing agent-based modeling as a tool for archaeologists,” Andrefsky said.
Kohler received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in anthropology from the University of Florida in 1975 and 1978. Since arriving at WSU in 1978, he has increasingly specialized in Southwestern archaeology, directing excavations in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico and the interdisciplinary NSF-funded "Village Project" to understand the causes for changes in settlement systems in the eastern Southwest between A.D. 600 and 1500. He is a research associate at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Cortez, and an external professor at Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico.
Kohler is especially interested in cooperative behavior, reciprocity and other evolutionary processes in Neolithic societies. He is widely published and, in April 2004, completed a four-year term as editor of the journal American Antiquity. He is involved with a multiuniversity initiative to aggregate and preserve digital archaeological data and make it broadly accessible.