Claire Novotny is an assistant professor of anthropology at Kenyon. Her research interests include the archaeology of ancient Maya households and rural communities, the role of identity in social and political affiliation and public archaeology. While studying for her MA in applied anthropology at the University of South Florida, Claire became interested in how archaeological knowledge is created and used in contemporary societies, specifically among Indigenous communities. For her dissertation research at UNC-Chapel Hill, she worked with Aguacate, a Q'eqchi' Maya village located in southern Belize, to design and implement a community archaeology project that investigated ancient Maya archaeological sites on community land. The project was a collaborative effort that sought the participation of local people in the creation of knowledge about their history and heritage.

Claire comes to Kenyon from InHerit: Passed to Present, a cultural heritage nonprofit housed in the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at UNC-Chapel Hill. As program director for InHerit, she planned and implemented educational programs about archaeology and heritage for local communities in Yucatán, Mexico, and Petén, Guatemala. Claire initiated the ongoing Toledo Heritage Stewardship Program in southern Belize, in collaboration with the Maya Leaders' Alliance (MLA), as a way to empower local stewards to map heritage sites in Mayan communities.

Areas of Expertise

Mesoamerican archaeology, community archaeology, archaeology of households and identity, applied anthropology.


— Master of Arts from University of South Florida

— Doctor of Philosophy from University of North Carolina a

— Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College

Courses Recently Taught

Today people increasingly live in highly industrialized and urban civilizations. But how long have humans had "civilization?" What is "civilization" and how can it be recognized? This course will address these questions through looking at the basic elements of archaeology and its place in anthropology. Topics we will cover include the history of archaeology, fundamental aspects of fieldwork and analysis and the prehistoric record from the first humans to the origins of civilization. This foundation course is required for upper-level work in archaeology courses. Offered every semester.

Humans often take for granted the spaces and places that frame our everyday lives. In this course we will make the familiar strange by asking: Why do most Americans live in square spaces? What would it be like to live in a cave? Can houses be spiritual places? In order to address these and other questions, we will explore how human habitats provide the very foundations of cultural practice and reproduction. This course takes a long-term perspective of humans and their habitats by starting our investigation in prehistory. We will explore social landscapes, dwellings and environments across different cultures, times and places. Our survey will include contemporary habitats as well as ancient dwellings and a consideration of sacred structures such as shrines and temples. This course emphasizes the form and meaning of architecture, its role in cultural formation processes, and explores long-term changes in how humans relate to their habitats and dwellings. As the material manifestations of culture and the building blocks of societies, having a place to dwell recursively makes us human while shaping us into bearers of culture. This counts as an upper-level elective for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every fall semester.

Archaeologists often grapple with how their interpretations affect contemporary communities, some of whom are descended from the ancient populations whose material remains we excavate. In recent years, archaeologists have started to reframe their practice as a means by which to benefit living people, including descendent and local non-descendent groups. How and why should archaeologists interact with local people or descendent communities? Can archaeology contribute to social justice and social change? How can archaeologists effectively communicate with students and the public? This class will address these and other questions through an examination of recent efforts by archaeologists around the world to decolonize the discipline and involve stakeholders in archaeological research. Students will put these ideas into practice by designing and implementing archaeology education activities at Science and Play Intersect (SPI), a science education nonprofit in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. This counts toward the upper-level archaeology or cultural anthropology requirement. Prerequisite: ANTH 112 or permission of instructor. Offered every fall semester.

What makes a good leader? Do the powerful manipulate ritual? How did social inequality start? This course will address these and other questions through an examination of ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica refers to a geographical area — spanning present-day Southern Mexico and Northern Central America — occupied by a variety of ancient cultures that shared religious, art, architecture and technology. We will analyze the rise of complex society in this diverse and vibrant region, from the domestication of corn and other agricultural staples to the seeds of social inequality and the rise of powerful leaders. In particular, we will focus on how ideology and ritual both sanctioned and fostered political and ritual economies throughout Mesoamerica. Drawing on examples from the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya and Aztec cultural groups, we will analyze the relationship between ideology and power and how it affected the lived experience of Mesoamerican peoples. We will consider topics such as social and political organization, economy, trade, gender and everyday life. The final days of the course will examine contemporary Indigenous issues in the region, linking archaeology and heritage to language revitalization, land rights struggles and political autonomy. More than just a cultural overview of a geographic region, students will come away from this class with the ability to critically evaluate ideological strategies and a distinct appreciation for the material heritage of Mesoamerican descendant communities. This counts toward the upper-level archaeology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: ANTH 112 or permission of instructor. Offered every other spring semester.