Visibility at Kin Klizhin (2009-12)

My Master’s degree project was an effort to explore the intra-community relationships at the Kin Klizhin Great House site and community in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico by studying intervisibility between structures. In the field, the research team collected GPS data using Trimble GeoExplorer handsets running ArcPad 9, recording updated locations based on a hand-drawn map provided by the National Park Service. I calculated visibility ranges (viewsheds) for each habitation site documented and assessed the patterns of visibility in the context of the landscape literature. Download my thesis and other background documents below.


Please note, although I make the documents here available to the public, I will not share site locations or other information that could compromise the preservation of these important archaeological sites without approval from the Chaco Culture National Historic Park archaeologist. Please contact them directly if you would like access to this information – you will need to register as a researcher and apply for access.

I encourage everyone go visit the public exhibits and guides hosted at the Chaco website!





This work would not have been possible without the generosity and guidance of many people. First and foremost, I thank my advisor Ruth Van Dyke for giving me the opportunity to do fieldwork at Chaco Canyon and showing me just how exciting fieldwork can be. Her unwavering dedication to her work is an inspiration as a beginning scholar. I offer sincere thanks to Randy McGuire for helping me improve the quality of my writing and encouraging me to participate actively in professional conferences. I am certain that I am a better student and scholar, and better prepared for a career in archaeology, having worked with my committee.

I offer special thanks to Rich Friedman, who, sight unseen, offered to help me find the data that made my analysis possible. I am also indebted to archaeologists and park rangers at Chaco Culture National Historic Park, who welcomed the field crew into their lives and homes while we conducted this research.

Conversations and debates with many valued friends and family have contributed to this work immensely. My parents and grandmother, in particular, deserve much credit for their patience and guidance throughout the last three years. Thanks to my office mate Erina Gruner served as a sounding board for ideas and her instinctive radar was responsible for finding many of the sites I needed to re-locate for this research. My internship at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center gave me invaluable perspective on the significance of my work, as well, thanks to Shanna Diederichs, Jamie Merewether, Fumi Arakawa, Jill Blumenthal, Margie Connolly, Susan Ryan, Donald Dawahongnewa, and my fellow summer 2011 research interns. I offer my gratitude to David Gerstle for sitting down with me and doing the hard work of crafting sentences – a much harder enterprise than I ever imagined before writing a thesis of my own.

Finally, I acknowledge all the family and friends who have encouraged me to keep going through this process. I have truly reached the limits of my knowledge and surpassed them while completing this project. I am grateful to have been surrounded by people who had faith in my capability to grow so much. Any flaws remaining in this work are my own.



The focus of most archaeological research on visibility is on inter-community communication and warfare. In this thesis, I focus instead on tracking historical changes in visibility within Kin Klizhin community near Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, United States. I use Geographic Information Systems to analyze intervisibility among habitation structures to better understand how visibility may have operated as an identity-formation tool for Ancestral Puebloan residents. My results indicate that on a community (rather than landscape) scale, residents were consistently able to see their neighbors over an 800 year period. Kin Klizhin residents experienced subtle, but archaeologically noticeable, differences in their visual landscape during a period when ideas from a nearby regional center at Chaco Canyon were influential there. The ubiquity and continuity of visibility in the built environment points to this being an important principle for the residents of Kin Klizhin. I conclude it is likely that people were building intervisible habitations and modifying the landscape on a large scale significantly before Chaco became a center of influence. This work is significant in two ways: my research supports that Ancestral Puebloans were preoccupied with visibility; and it suggests that visibility was materialized as both an expression of Ancestral Puebloan ideas and as a technique of community constitution. Intervisibility between people is one possible signifier of the symbolic world, the identities and world views of past peoples. Studying its material representation in archaeological remains is one possible way to access past peoples’ conceptualizations of the world.




Appendix A – Data table with site numbers and dates

GPS Data Collection Instructions