Artifact and Image
The Individual & the Collective - HNRS 2364

Instructor(s): Troy Lovata

Course Description

Ours is a material world. Our conceptions of ourselves, of others, and of our environment are all expressed in material culture. This interdisciplinary seminar examines two specific kinds of material culture—physical artifacts and material images—in order to learn about the cultures that created them. It draws from the fields of Anthropology, Archaeology, Geography, Art History, and Cultural Studies to examine culture through it’s material expression.

This semester we will focus on two types of artifacts and images: rock art and graffiti. Rock art and graffiti from prehistoric, historic, and modern contexts all provide unique insight into the human organization that is culture. Students in this class will go into the field in Albuquerque and across New Mexico to examine rock art and graffiti first-hand in order to compare local examples with readings about peoples and cultures from around the world. This course unfolds in both the classroom and the field because artifacts and images have contexts and are not merely abstract concepts. 

This course meets once a week in order to allow for on campus and in town field trips during regularly scheduled class time. These include excursions to Petroglyphs National Monument in Albuquerque to study Native American rock art and on the UNM campus and to the Albuquerque Railyard to examine modern graffiti. There are also required, day-long field trips to El Morro National Monument west of Albuquerque to examine both prehistoric rock art and historic graffiti on Friday, March 4th and to the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque to study arborglyphs (a type of graffiti marked on trees) on Saturday March 26th. Field trip attendance is mandatory and an $85 course fee is charged to cover some travel and field study costs.


Required texts include the book Understanding Graffiti: Multidisciplinary Studies From Prehistory to Present by Troy Lovata and Elizabeth Olton (Routledge, 2015) and a free, PDF-based course reader with selections from texts and peer-reviewed research articles on rock art, arborglyphs, and graffiti from the fields of Anthropology, Archaeology, Geography, Art History, and Cultural Studies.


Students are required to be active seminar participants and discussants, attend multiple field trips and field studies outside the classroom, and complete a series of written, sketch, and photo-based observational exercises that link together their understanding of different aspects of the material expression of culture.

About the Instructor(s): Troy Lovata

Dr. Lovata is a tenured Professor in the UNM Honors College, where he has taught courses on artifacts, landscape, and culture for more than 15 years. He earned a Bachelor’s in Anthropology from Colorado State University and Masters and Doctorate degrees in Anthropology with a focus on the visual presentation of Archaeology from The University of Texas. He is especially interested in how people from prehistory through the present understand and mark the landscape.