Steve Nash's Lab Page

About Dr. Steve

I grew up on the south side of Chicago, in the Hyde Park neighborhood, near the University of Chicago. When I was very young, my father worked as an editor at the Field Museum of Natural History, where he worked with many different types of scientists. One of my earliest memories was going behind-the-scenes at the Museum to see row after row after row of beautiful, iridescent insects pinned in trays.

My mother worked at the University of Chicago, where she was friends with many, many different anthropologists and archaeologists. Although I did not know it at the time, anthropology would prove a life-long interest, and when I took my first anthropology course as a senior at Kenwood Academy, I knew I was hooked.

I got my first museum job in high school, working as a tour guide at the Museum of Science and Industry. Although I did not know it at the time museums would also become a life-long interest.

I went to Grinnell College in Iowa, where I had the privilege of going on my first archaeological dig. After college, I worked on archaeological projects in Illinois and Israel, then enrolled in graduate school at the University of Arizona, and have since worked all over the American West and in southwestern France.

I came to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in 2006. Since then, I have used tree-ring dating to study cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, conducted archaeological survey on Mogollon culture sites in west-central New Mexico, and studied gem-carving statues by Russian artist Vasily Konovalenko.

Looking back, what have I learned? For your career choice, follow your heart, your gut, your passion, and your intellect; don’t follow your wallet. I know plenty of people who are rich in money but poor in spirit. Where’s the point in that?


Crossroads of Culture

The Front Range of Colorado has served as a crossroads of culture for millennia. More than 12,000 years ago Paleoindian big-game hunters crossed the region on foot. Today, modern air travel connects Coloradans to the furthest corners of the planet in a day’s time.

The anthropology collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science record the cultural diversity and history of this remarkable region, but until 2010 there were no publications available that present a comprehensive overview of the collections. My colleagues and I sought to rectify this problem, and our book Crossroads of Culture is the result.

Crossroads of Culture includes a brief history of the Department of Anthropology, summary descriptions the major sub-collections (i.e. American Ethnology, American Archaeology, World Ethnology, and World Archaeology), personal reflections by former curators Jane Stevenson Day and Joyce Herold, and volunteer Ruth Montoya-Starr. The highlights of the book are the more than 100 photographs of historic, archival, collections objects by Scott Dressel-Martin and Rick Wicker.

Thanks to the generosity of two donors and the cooperation of our publisher, the University Press of Colorado, the beautiful, full-color, coffee-table style Crossroads of Culture can be purchased for only $11.95. This means that virtually everyone can enjoy the wonderful collections we curate in trust for the people of the state of Colorado!


Vasily Konovalenko (1929 – 1989) was a Ukrainian-born sculptor and artist whose remarkable gem carvings may be found on public display only at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the State Gems Museum (Samotsvety) in Moscow.

As a young man in the early 1950s, Konovalenko helped build sets for Swan Lake, Aida, La Traviata, Romeo and Juliet, and other classic ballets and operas. In 1957, while working at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Konovalenko worked on the ballet The Stone Flower. The Stone Flower’s male lead is Danila, an accomplished stonecutter. Although betrothed to the beautiful Katarina, Danila becomes smitten with the mythical Mistress of Malachite Mountain. For the ballet, Konovalenko had to carve malachite jewelry box as a stage prop (Malachite is a beautiful green- and black-banded copper-rich mineral for which Russia is famous.) From that point on, Konovalenko was as smitten with gem carving as Danila had been with the Mistress of Malachite Mountain. Life imitates art.

It is difficult to understand how one might “see” inside a block of stone and predict how the internal structure of minerals and crystals might be used to create dynamic, three-dimensional statues, but that is exactly what Konovalenko did. Konovalenko’s talent is such that he has been compared to Fabergé, another great Russian artist, without a hint of irony or sarcasm.

These beautiful sculptures are worthy of detailed study, so please come to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to enjoy a truly world-class treasure. If you can’t make it to Denver, copies of my books “A Stone Lives On”: Vasily Konovalenko’s Gem Carving Sculptures at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science are available at A comprehensive volume, Stories in Stone: The Enchanted Gem Carvings of Vasily Konovalenko will be published in May, 2016, by the University Press of Colorado.

Watch this video: Vasily Konovalenko's Gem Carving Sculptures at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Martin Sites Relocation Project

Archaeologist Paul Sidney Martin (1898 - 1974) stands as one of the pillars in the development of North American archaeological knowledge, method, and theory. During a 43-year career at the Field Museum in Chicago, Martin excavated many significant archaeological sites, including Lowry Ruin in Colorado, Tularosa Cave in New Mexico, and Carter Ranch Pueblo in Arizona. Martin's legacy is unfortunately tarnished by three facts. First, he failed to catalog 570,000 of the 605,000 (ca. 95%) artifacts he collected. Second, he failed to publish anything on more than half (38 of 72) of the sites he excavated. Third, he failed to record the sites he excavated with appropriate state and federal authorities. Dr. Steve Nash of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science has been trying to resolve these issues since 1997.

Between 1997 and 1999, Nash catalogued the Martin collection while serving as a post-doctoral research specialist at the Field Museum. Between 1999 and 2009, he prepared finding aides to the collections from all 70 of the Martin-excavated sites, and these finding aides are now on file in the Department of Anthropology at the Field Museum. Since 2008, he has directed the Martin Sites Recording Project, a systematic effort to relocate, re-record, and properly register with appropriate authorities, the sites that Martin excavated. These efforts have been funded by the National Science Foundation (grant no. SBR-9710181), the Southwestern Foundation, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and the Field Museum.



Reserve Area Archaeological Project

The Reserve Area Archaeological Project (RAAP), led by Nash, Dr. Michele Koons (DMNS) and Dr. Deborah Huntley, is focused on the archaeology the mountainous highlands of west-central New Mexico. Remarkably, there has been very little archaeological research in this important area over the last several decades. Working with a multi-disciplinary team of colleagues from a variety of institutions, Nash, Koons, and Huntley hope to refine the understanding of ancient subsistence practices, settlement systems, and adaptation to these challenging environs. 


During the 2010 excavation of the Snowmastodon Project site near Snowmass Village, Colorado, DMNS scientists recovered dozens of remarkably well preserved logs, branches, and other wood remnants.  On May 5, 2011, tree-ring scientists Peter Brown, PhD, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, and Jeffrey Lukas, PhD, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, visited the Museum to cut sections of the wood and to begin preparing them for detailed study. In 2014, Brown, Nash, and Doug Kline published the results of their analysis in a special issue of Quaternary Research focused on the Snowmastodon site. The well-preserved trees they analyzed revealed growth characteristics and species distributions remarkably similar to those of today. 

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