Todd VanPool

Chair, Professor
221 Swallow Hall

BA in Anthropology at Eastern New Mexico University
Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico in 2003


I study the evolution and cognitive structure of religion and its relationship to pilgrimages, social status, economic organization, and cultural stability and change. Much of my research has focused on the archaeology of the ancient North American Southwest, especially the late prehistoric occupation of the Casas Grandes region of Chihuahua, Mexico, and southernmost New Mexico. With Gordon Rakita (University of North Florida) and my wife and colleague, Christine VanPool, I have conducted field work at 76 Draw, a Casas Grandes settlement near Deming, New Mexico since 2009. Graduate and undergraduate students have been integrated into this project since its inception. Our research has produced 7 MA theses, 2 PhD dissertations, and 13 student co-authored articles published in venues such as American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity. My analysis of Casas Grandes religion has further led to cross-cultural comparisons of the symbolism and shamanic practices among Mesoamerican, Southwestern, and Southeastern cultures, especially as they are reflected in horned/plumed serpent imagery and the structure of the underlying shamanic universes. This is again reflected in my work with graduate students that includes theses/dissertations focused on Southeastern religion and archaeoastronomy, and the structure of the West Mexican Aztatlan archaeological tradition.

Reoccurring themes in my research include gender and the organization of craft production, especially as it is reflected in stone artifact production and consumption. My analysis of Casas Grandes ground stone and flaked stone ties technological choices and artifact morphology with craft production and social organization. I use an engineering approach to tie variation in performance characteristics to the technological and social context of use, especially related to differences between ground stone tools produced by specialist producers in the Casas Grandes region. My analysis of flaked stone artifacts has primarily focused on the distribution of obsidian within and among Casas Grandes settlements. Discussions of gender have focused on status, gender distinctions, and religion, especially as they are reflected in clothing and religious practices depicted in Casas Grandes human effigies.

An emerging focus of my research is cross-cultural patterns in the use of trance-based religious experiences. Along with Christine VanPool, I am exploring how trance can be initiated with and without entheogens. Entheogens such as tobacco, peyote, ayahuasca, and datura have been used around the world and through time to produce altered states of consciousness (ASC). During these dreamlike states, people perceived the world in different ways and could interact with spirits and even a spirit world that were not typically visible. These experiences then become central to the cosmological, religious, and artistic traditions of traditional people (e.g., the brilliantly colored Huichol peyote-inspired yarn art). While anthropologists have explored the use of entheogens as a means of initiating trance, they have spent less research effort on trance-based systems that do not (regularly) use entheogens. Christine and I are working with the Cuyamungue Institute (CI) near Santa Fe, New Mexico, to understand the process of using sound induction and ritual body postures to initiate ASC. CI is a registered 501-c-3 nonprofit research institution established by Felicitas Goodman to continue her research into trance-based spiritual experiences. Paul Robear and Laura Lee, the directors of CI, are collaborating with us as we explore how body posture, social setting, and other factors influence trance experiences, and how this in turn might be reflected in the archaeological and ethnographic records.

I am accepting graduate students interested in New World archaeology (including the American Southeast), religion and society, and archaeological method and theory.

Select Publications

3 books, 4 edited volumes, 22 peer-reviewed articles, and 35 book chapters. See ‪Todd L. VanPool - ‪Google Scholar for a more complete listing but following is a list of selected publications.

VanPool, C.S., and T. L. VanPool
2023     An Anthropological Study of Spirits. Springer Nature, New York.

VanPool, C. S., and T. L. VanPool
2022    Bringing the Inert to Life: The Activation of Animate Beings. Religions 14:1-19.

VanPool, C. S., and T. L. VanPool
2021     The Reality of Casas Grandes Potters: Realistic Portraits of Spirits and Shamans. Religions 12:315

VanPool T. L., and C. S. VanPool
2019     Paquimé’s Appeal: The Creation of an Elite Pilgrimage Site in the North American Southwest. In Cognitive Archaeology: Mind, Ethnography, and the Past in South Africa and Beyond, edited by D. Whitley, J. Loubser, and G. Whitelaw, pp. 115–134. Routledge, London.

VanPool, T. L., and C. S. VanPool
2018     Visiting the Horned Serpent’s Home: A Relational Analysis of Paquimé as a Pilgrimage Site in the North American Southwest. Journal of Social Archaeology 18:306–324.

Topi, J., C. S. VanPool, K. D. Waller, and T. L. VanPool
2018     The Economy of Specialized Ceramic Craft Production in the Casas Grandes Region. Latin American Antiquity 29:122–142.

VanPool, T. L., K. Kircher, C. S. VanPool, and G.F.M. Rakita
2017     Social Interaction, Social Status, and the Organization of Medio Period Craft Production as Evidenced in Ground Stone Artifacts from 76 Draw. Lithic Technology 42:77–89.

VanPool, C. S., T. L. VanPool, and Lauren Downs
2017     Dressing the Person: Clothing and Identity in the Casas Grandes World. American Antiquity 82:262–287.

VanPool, T. L., and C. S. VanPool
2016     Animating Architecture and the Assembly of an Elite City: Birth and Dedication of Nonhuman Persons at Paquimé, Chihuahua, Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Research 72:311–336.

VanPool, T. L., M. J. O’Brien, and R. L. Lyman
2015     Innovation and Natural Selection in Paleoindian Projectile Points from the American Southwest. In Lithic Technological Systems: Stone, Human Behavior, and Evolution, edited by N. Goodale and W. Andrefsky, Jr., pp. 61–81. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

VanPool, T. L., and M. J. O’Brien
2013     Social Complexity and the Bow and Arrow in the North American Southwest. Evolutionary Anthropology 22:111–117.

VanPool, T. L., C. Oswald, J. Christy, J. R. Ferguson, , G.F.M. Rakita, and C. S. VanPool
2013     Provenance Studies of Obsidian at 76 Draw. In Advances in Jornada Mogollon Archaeology: Proceedings from the 17th Jornada Mogollon Conference, edited by T. VanPool, E. McCarthy, and C. VanPool, pp. 163–184. El Paso Museum of Archaeology, El Paso, Texas.

O’Brien, M.J., R. L. Lyman, A. Mesoudi, and T. L. VanPool
2010     Cultural Traits as Units of Analysis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 365:3797–3806

VanPool, C. S., and T. L. VanPool
2009     The Semantics of Local Knowledge: Using Ethnosemantics to Study Folk Taxonomy Represented in the Archaeological Record. Journal of Anthropological Research 65(4):529–554.

Lyman, R. L., and T. L. VanPool
2009     Metric Data in Archaeology: A Study of Intra-analyst and Inter-analyst Variation. American Antiquity 74:485–504.

Lyman, R. L., T. L. VanPool, M. J. O’Brien
2009     The Diversity of North American Projectile-point Types, Before and After the Bow and Arrow. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28:1–13.

Lyman, R. L., T. L. VanPool, and M. J. O’Brien
2008     Variation in North American Dart Points and Arrow Points when One or Both are Present. Journal of Archaeological Science 35:2805–2812.

VanPool, C. S., and T. L. VanPool
2006     Gender in Middle Range Societies: A Case Study in Casas Grandes Iconography. American Antiquity 71:53–75.

VanPool, C. S., and T. L. VanPool
2003     Method, Theory, and the Essential Tension. In Essential Tensions in Archaeological Method and Theory, edited by T. L. VanPool and C. S. VanPool, pp. 1–4. Foundations of Archaeological Inquiry, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

VanPool, T. L., and R. D. Leonard
2002     Specialized Ground Stone Production in the Casas Grandes Region of Northern Chihuahua, Mexico. American Antiquity 67:710–730.

VanPool, T. L., C. S. VanPool, R. Cruz Antillón, R. D. Leonard, and M. Harmon
2000     Flaked Stone and Social Interaction in the Casas Grandes Region, Chihuahua, Mexico. Latin American Antiquity 11:163–174.

VanPool, C. S., and T. L. VanPool
1999     The Scientific Nature of Postprocessual Research. American Antiquity 64:33–53. (Article is reprinted as the concluding chapter in Readings in American Archaeological Theory: Selections from American Antiquity 1962–2002, edited by G. Bawden [2003]. Society for American Archaeology, Washington DC.)

Office Hours

Monday 9:00 to 11:00 AM, Wednesday 2:00 to 3:00 PM