Ron Towner

Associate Professor

Dr. Towner is the Agnese and Emil W. Haury Endowed Chair in Archaeological Dendrochronology.

Dr. Towner’s research over the past decade has revolved around three major issues: human/environment interactions, dendroarchaeological method and theory, and expansion of archaeological dendrochronology nationally and internationally. These areas have been addressed using grant-funded projects, collaborative efforts with federal, state, tribal, and private entities, and by involving students directly in the research.

Dendroarchaeology is uniquely situated to examine human/environment interaction at fine temporal and spatial scales. By precisely dating archaeological sites and retrodicting climate parameters, Towner has examined cultural responses to both low- and high-frequency climatic variation and avoided the typical environmental determinist explanations that have been discredited in the past. One of his specific research areas has been on the Early Navajo and their adaptation to the fluctuating climate and very unstable social environment of the protohistoric period on the Colorado Plateau.

Dendroarchaeological method and theory is critical to understanding past human/environment interaction. An important aspect of Towner’s research has been to examine and promote understanding of the arboreal archaeological record across cultures using a landscape-scale approach. Although necessarily
temporally limited by tree age, such an approach provides abundant data relevant to the illumination of cross-cultural technological, social, and ecological transformations. Another role of dendroarchaeological method and theory is the calibration of other chronometric techniques. Towner is currently involved in research that will have significant impacts on radiocarbon dating in the Intermountain West and elsewhere.

Finally, one of Dr. Towner’s major goals has been to expand dendroarchaeology beyond the U.S. Southwest. Preliminary efforts, some successful and some that require additional effort, have been made in northern Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, coastal Peru, the Texas Hill country, the central Rockies, and northeastern Utah. Although some of these efforts have not yet yielded chronometric data, all have significantly contributed toward a fuller understanding of past wood use practices and cultural adaptations to different environments.