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Wirt H Wills

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Name  Wirt Wills

Books  Early Prehistoric Agriculture in the American Southwest

Wirt Henry Wills, Phd, is an American Southwest archaeologist and a Professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico. He has written numerous papers and books on the archaeology of the prehistoric southwest. He is most notable for investigations and excavations in or near New Mexico, including: the prehistoric site at Bat Cave in Catron County, New Mexico, the Mogollon Su site in western New Mexico and Pueblo Bonito located in Chaco Culture National Historical Park.



Wills grew up in Virginia on his father's farm which contained many prehistoric and historic sites. He attributes growing up around old things as a probable stimulus for a desire to work in archeology. The first site he ever worked was in a salt marsh in Lewes, Delaware, at the age of 12 and he has been poking around in sites ever since.

Wills began teaching at the University of New Mexico in 1986, and his fieldwork has continued within the state of New Mexico. Wills outlined goals are stated in his Curriculum Vitae:

“Dr Wills is an archaeologist and his research concerns the emergence of new socioeconomic organization in the past, especially with respect to agriculture and food production. Since coming to the University of New Mexico, his field work has been in the American Southwest, primarily in New Mexico. This field research has been fundamental to his work in four major problem areas; 1) the origins of agriculture during the Late Archaic period (ca. 4000 to 3000 B.C.), 2) the emergence of village communities during the Early Ceramic period (ca. A.D. 200 to 500), 3) the development of hierarchically complex corporate groups after A.D. 1000 in the Colorado Plateau, and 4) the formation of Hispanic irrigation communities during the 18 th century in the northern Rio Grand Valley”.


Chaco Canyon is the center of Wills' work. For his dissertation, Dr. Wills wrote an article that was later published in the journal of field archaeology entitled The Preceramic to Ceramic Traditions in the Mongollon Highlands of Western New Mexico that focused on his excavation of a pit house on the SU site.

Excavations at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon's most famous site, is what sets him apart from most American anthropologists. Dated roughly from 919-1067 C.E., this vast structure consists of over 800 rooms that took 150 years to construct. The rooms served as living areas, religious centers and even storage units.

Economic theory

An essential part of Wills' economic theory separates a site's storage capacity and intensification. Wills' ecological interests focused on sophisticated analyses of prehistoric subsistence, agriculture, and storage practices. In his work with the Pit house Agriculture he stated “Large crop yields or high levels of domesticate consumption might be the product of intensification, but not necessarily”.

Women’s Economic intensification

Wills' work on the “Archaeology of Gender in the American Southwest” focused on both time allocation and economic intensification. His contributions to economic intensification were key to identifying some of the origins of southwestern ceramic containers.

Future projects

Wills has been actively involved in the Chaco Stratigraphy project from 2006 to the present. The Chaco Stratigraphy Project is an interdisciplinary research program at the University of New Mexico involving field investigations in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Chaco was the center of an unprecedented cultural development between ca. AD 800 and 1200 known as the "Chaco Phenomenon." Wills is hoping that the Chaco Stratigraphy Project will contribute to a greater understanding of the human experience in Chaco through detailed studies of socioeconomic change, with an emphasis on agricultural production and technology during the Bonito phase (ca. AD 850 – 1140).


As a scholar, Wills has written and co-authored many articles and books dealing with Southwestern Archaeology. The first book co-written by Wills was entitled “The Archaeological Correlates of Hunter-Gatherer Societies: Studies From the Ethnographic Record” in 1980. Wills has also written extensive articles that have been published by the journal of field archaeology. In 2006, Wills wrote “The Late Archaic Across the Borderlands: From Foraging to Farming” which described the transition of foraging for food to the use of agriculture for food development.

Selected work

  • (1980) Archaeological Correlates of Hunter-Gatherer Societies: Studies From the Ethnographic Record.
  • (1994) The Ancient Southwestern Community: Models and Methods for the Study of Prehistoric Social Organization.
  • (2006) The Late Archaic Across the Borderlands: From Foraging to Farming.
  • (1988) Wills, W. H. (Wirt Henry) (1988). Early prehistoric agriculture in the American Southwest (1st ed.). Santa Fe, N.M.: School of American Research Press ; [Seattle] : Distributed by University of Washington Press. pp. xii, 184 p. : ill. ; 27 cm. ISBN 0-933452-25-X. Retrieved 2008-05-12. 
  • With others

  • (1994) W.H. Wills and Robert D. Leonard., ed. (1994). The Ancient southwestern community : models and methods for the study of prehistoric social organization (1st ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,. pp. xvi, 256 p. : ill., maps ; 27 cm. ISBN 0-8263-1476-7. Retrieved 2008-05-12. 
  • Wills, Wirt H. And Crown, Patricia.
  • (1996) The Preceramic to Ceramic Traditions in the Mongollon Highlands of Western New Mexico
  • (1995) “The Archaeology of Gender in the American Southwest ” Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 51, No. 2.
  • References

    Wirt H. Wills Wikipedia

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