Michele Koons, PhD

Dr. Michele Koons is the Curator of Archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.  She studies ancient complex societies and is especially interested in ancient political dynamics, social networks, and how people of the past interacted with their environment. In her research, Dr. Koons uses different geophysical methods and remote sensing tools, as well as traditional archaeological techniques like excavation and pedestrian survey.  She also specializes in ceramic analysis and radiocarbon dating. Michele has conducted archaeological research throughout the United States, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and China.  Dr. Koons curates the archaeological collections at DMNS from Latin American, North America, and Egypt. 

  • POSITIONCurator of Archaeology
  • EXPERTISE Andean and environmental archaeology
  • PhD

    Harvard University

  • PHONE NUMBER303.370.6457
  • EMAIL[email protected]
  • RESUME Click to Download
Personal Page


  • 1

    2015 KOONS, M. Moche Socio-Political Dynamics and the Role of Licapa II, Chicama Valley, Peru. Latin American Antiquity 26(4): 473-492


  • 2

    2015 KOONS, M. External versus Internal: An Examination of Moche Politics through Similarities and Differences in Ceramic Style. In Proceedings from the Andean Ceramic Characterization Session from the 2014 SAA Annual Meeting in Austin, TX, edited by I. DRUC, pp. 57-82. Blue Mounds, WI: Deep University Press.


  • 3

    2014 KOONS, M. and B. ALEX Reevaluating Moche Chronology through Bayesian Methods. Radiocarbon 56(3): 1039-1055.


  • 4

    2013 KOONS, M. Reexamining Tiwanaku’s Urban Renewal through Ground-Penetrating Radar and Excavation: The Results of Three Field Seasons. In Advances in Titicaca Basin Archaeology - 2, edited by A. VRANICH, pp. 147-165. Los Angeles, CA:  Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, UCLA


  • 5

    2012 QUILTER, J. and M. KOONS The Fall of the Moche: A Critique of Claims for the South America’s First State. Latin American Antiquity 23(2): 127-143


Directed by Koons, Dr. Steve Nash (DMNS) and Dr. Deborah Huntley, the Reserve Area Archaeological Project (RAAP) is investigating changes in population density, settlement location, subsistence strategies, paleoclimate, social dynamics, and resource availability in the mountainous Gila National Forest near Reserve, New Mexico. Little archaeological work has been undertaken in this area since the 1950s and there is still much to discover about how people lived there in the past. The this project brings together many datasets, such as existing collections in Chicago’s Field Museum excavated between 1939 and 1955, GIS data from the Forest Service, paleoclimate data, and new research that focuses on non-invasive methods. To date, field work has consisted of relocating and rerecording archaeological sites, locating new sites through pedestrian survey, and employing remote sensing techniques, such as ground-penetrating radar, to some of the sites.  Through extensive radiocarbon dating and ceramic sequence correlation, the project is also reevaluating the occupational chronology of the entire region.

Nestled in the foothills along Lena Gulch in Golden, CO, Magic Mountain is proclaimed to be one of the most important archaeological sites on Colorado’s Front Range.  The earliest artifacts date back to 5000 BC, when the site would have served as camping grounds for mobile hunter gather groups passing though the region.  Later remains, such as ceramics and stone structures, indicate that though time it became a semi-permanent residence that was inhabited until roughly 1000 AD. Magic Mountain was excavated twice in the past; first, by Harvard University in the 1950s, and second by the Cultural Resource Management firm, Centennial Archaeology, in the 1990s. DMNS houses the collections from the latter excavation.  Over the next few years, through a community oriented outreach project, we will revive excavation efforts at Magic Mountain to learn more about this important site. This new research and reevaluation of old collections will make Colorado archaeology more accessible to the general public and foster a better appreciation of  what life was like long ago on the Front Range. Learn more about the Magic Mountain Project here.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has a collection of roughly 130 ceramic vessels from Bolivia. At first glance they appear to be from the Tiwanaku archaeological culture from highland Bolivia.  A longer look at the DMNS ceramics indicates that although many appear Tiwanaku-esk in style, others are decidedly from the Cochabamba region, 200 miles to the east of the site of Tiwanaku. The site of Tiwanaku was the primary ceremonial, political, and economic center in the southern Andes from 500- 1100 AD. It is located 15 km southeast of Lake Titicaca in highland Bolivia, but its influence stretched as far west as the Chilean and Peruvian coasts and into the eastern Amazon Rainforest. Tiwanaku influence is seen abroad through the adaptation of Tiwanaku material culture, mainly drinking vessels called keros with specific imagery, in otherwise local communities. Many of the pieces in the DMNS collection are Cochabamba made keros with Tiwanaku designs.  There are also a mix of local Cochabamba wares of various styles and time periods. Research on this collection, conducted by Koons and colleagues, is revealing new insights on the people who lived in this region and their relationships with the people at Tiwanaku.   

The Moche civilization (250-900 AD) of the North Coast of Peru is characterized by elaborately decorated temple complexes known as huaca centers, wealthy elite burials, and exquisite ceramics found across ten valleys. Dr. Koons did her dissertation research at the previously unstudied mid-sized ceremonial center of Licapa II, located in the Chicama Valley, Peru. Dr. Koons continues to actively publish on Moche archaeology. Check out her latest publication in the December 2015 issue of Latin American Antiquity.

Read Moche Sociopolitical Dynamics and The Role of Licapa II, Chicama Valley, Peru by Dr. Koons.

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