Professor and archaeologist aims to preserve Hopi culture.
Archaeologist Wes Bernardini, Farquhar Chair of the American Southwest and professor of sociology and anthropology, has spent a career aligning his research interests with those of the Hopi Tribe he is studying.
The tribe first captivated his attention during graduate school, when Bernardini visited the mountains near Flagstaff, Ariz., and caught a glimpse of the Hopi Mesas.
“It was one of those hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-stands-up moments,” he says. “I thought, ‘I want to work here!’”
For the past 15 years, he has returned every summer, usually with students in tow, to study and record ancestral Hopi sites.
Bernardini’s close working relationship with the Hopi began back in the 1990s. During an “intimidating meeting” with 15 elderly Hopi men, Bernardini revealed that he was not entirely sure what he planned to research.
“That turned out to be what they wanted to hear,” he says. “Before, people came in with big plans and just wanted the tribe to sign off on them. This started us out on the right foot as collaborators.”
Recently, Bernardini partnered with Nate Strout, director of spatial technology in the University’s Center for Spatial Studies, and students in the Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program to put GIS to work exploring the ancestral Hopi landscape. The plan is to incorporate this interactive tool into the Hopi High School curriculum.
Redlands students participating in Bernardini’s lab and fieldwork do surveying and mapping; record sites; wash, label and sort artifacts in the lab; and, tabulate the results. This experience pays off after graduation—former students have parlayed these skills into jobs with the National Park Service, private industry, museums and even tech companies such as Apple.
“They see how the entire scientific process works,” Bernardini says. “Learning how to produce new knowledge—that’s a life skill that’s useful beyond archaeology.”
Many of Bernardini’s projects have helped to preserve Hopi cultural heritage. He successfully nominated the rock art site of Tutuveni and the 300-year-old village of Walpi to be listed on the World Monuments Fund “Watch List” of the 100 most endangered cultural resources in the world.
Bernardini is replacing James Sandos, a Redlands history professor and expert in the history of California missions, who held the Farquhar Chair of the American Southwest professorship for two decades before his retirement.