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George L. Cowgill
Ph.D., Harvard, 1963
Professor Emeritus

SHESC Themes: Urban Societies

Field specializations: archaeology, aesthetics, agency, economic anthropology, ideational studies, material culture, math and statistics, political anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, spatial technologies

Regional focus: Unspecified


George L. Cowgill obtained degrees in physics (B.S. Stanford, 1952; M.S. Iowa State, 1954) before switching to anthropology (A.M Chicago, 1956; Ph.D. Harvard, 1963). As an undergraduate he also took courses in English and creative writing, and he has persistently attempted to integrate scientific and humanistic approaches in his research. He is especially interested in the worldwide comparative study of ancient urban societies in their social, political, economic, and ideational aspects, particularly in explanatory models of change that recognize practices and intentions of individuals acting in and acting upon their natural and social contexts. He also maintains an interest in the social, cultural, and economic factors affecting present-day human fertility, especially in poorer nations, which he sees as a topic of continuing concern that is unduly neglected by most anthropologists. He has worked on applications of mathematical and statistical methods and concepts to archaeological topics.

Cowgill’s field research has been mainly in Mesoamerica, the scene of major pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Aztecs, Maya, and many others. He has worked especially at the immense pre-Aztec city of Teotihuacan, near modern Mexico City, where he supervises an ASU-managed archaeological research center. In the 1960s he assisted in the comprehensive mapping and surface collection of remains of the entire eight-square-mile ancient city, directed by Dr. René Millon of the University of Rochester. Since then, much of his effort has gone into computer-aided spatial and statistical analyses of the data collected by that project. In 1988-89 he collaborated with Rubén Cabrera, of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History and with Dr. Saburo Sugiyama (professor at Aichi Prefectural University in Japan and a research professor at ASU) in excavations that permanently changed the pacific image of early Teotihuacan by revealing nearly two hundred sacrificial victims at the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent (also known as the Temple of Quetzalcóatl). These projects have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society, and other sources.

Some of Cowgill’s publications on Teotihuacan report on these and other finds; others are efforts to synthesize a wide range of data and present a rounded view of the city in its material, social, political, religious, iconographic, and aesthetic aspects, and how all these changed over time. He is also interested in the city’s wider impacts in Mesoamerica, which reached as far as the Maya area, some 800 miles away.

Cowgill has served on the Executive Committee of the Society for American Archaeology, as consulting editor for mathematics and statistics for American Antiquity (the leading journal for North American archaeology), and as advisory editor for archaeology for Current Anthropology. He has held a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford, CA). He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is a recipient of the Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology (from the Archaeological Institute of America), the Excellence in Archaeological Analysis award of the Society for American Archaeology, and the A. V. Kidder Award for Eminence in American Archaeology (from the Archeology Division of the American Anthropological Association).

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Select Publications


Cowgill, George L., René Millon and R. Bruce Drewitt (1973)
Urbanization at Teotihuacan, Mexico. Volume 1: The Teotihuacan Map. Part 2: Maps. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Cowgill, George L. and Norman Yoffee, Eds. (1988)
The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Journal Articles and Chapters in Books

Cowgill, George L. (1975)
On Causes and Consequences of Ancient and Modern Population Changes. American Anthropologist 77:505-25.

Cowgill, George L. (1983)
Rulership and the Ciudadela: Political Inferences from Teotihuacan Architecture. In Civilization in the Ancient Americas: Essays in Honor of Gordon R. Willey (ed. R. Leventhal and A. Kolata), pp. 313-43. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press and Peabody Museum, Harvard.

Cowgill, George L. (1988)
Onward and Upward with Collapse. In The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations (ed. N. Yoffee and G. Cowgill), pp. 244-76. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Cowgill, George L. (1989)
The Concept of Diversity in Archaeological Theory. In Quantifying Diversity in Archaeology (ed. R. Leonard and G. Jones), pp. 131-41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cowgill, George L. (1990)
Artifact Classification and Archaeological Purposes. In Mathematics and Information Science in Archaeology (ed. A. Voorrips), pp. 61-78. Bonn: HOLOS Verlag.

Cowgill, George L. (1993)
Distinguished Lecture in Archeology: Beyond Criticizing New Archeology. American Anthropologist 95:551-573.

Cowgill, George L. (1996)
Population, Human Nature, Knowing Actors, and Explaining the Onset of Complexity. In Debating Complexity, Proceedings of the 26th Annual Chacmool Conference, ed. D. Meyer, P. Dawson, and D. Hanna, pp. 16-21. Calgary: University of Calgary Archaeological Association.

Cowgill, George L. (2000)
The Central Mexican Highlands from the Rise of Teotihuacan to the Decline of Tula. In The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Volume II: Mesoamerica, Part 1, edited by R. E. W. Adams and M. J. MacLeod, pp. 250-317. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cowgill, George L. (2000)
"Rationality" and Contexts in Agency Theory. In Agency in Archaeology, edited by M.-A. Dobres and J. Robb, pp. 51-60. London and New York: Routledge

Cowgill, George L. (2004)
Origins and Development of Urbanism: Archaeological Perspectives. Annual Review of Anthropology 33:525-549.

Cowgill, George L. (2004)
Thoughts about Rethinking Materiality, in Rethinking Materiality: the Engagement of Mind with the Material World, edited by E. DeMarrais, C. Gosden, and C. Renfrew, pp. 273-280. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.Hierarchy," American Ethnologist 12(1): 1-26.

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Contact: George L. Cowgill