Michele Koons, PhD


Dr. Michele Koons 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, Michele uses different geophysical methods and traditional archaeological techniques, such as 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. Michele grew up outside of Philadelphia and attended the University of Pittsburgh for her BA. After interning at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, she moved to Colorado and worked at the Museo de las Americas in Denver and in cultural resource management in Wyoming. Michele then attended the University of Denver for her MA degree, where she explored the site of Tiwanaku in Bolivia. Michele went on to Harvard University for her PhD and pursued research on the Moche archaeological culture of Peru. While at Harvard, Michele worked at the Peabody Museum and volunteered at the Boston Museum of Science. After defending, she took a postdoctoral position at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and was hired as curator a year later. Michele currently conducts research in the American Southwest, on Colorado’s Front Range, and in Peru. She curates the Museum’s archaeological collections from Latin American, North America, and Egypt.

Check out the latest on Instagram at @dr.michele.koons and YouTube.  


Featured Publications

Koons, M., M. Mitchell, M. Hernandez-Bravo, T. Hitte, J. Moss Logan, E. Baxter. 2021. The Magic Mountain community archaeology project. Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 8(4): 213-228 DOI: 10.1080/20518196.2021.1972560

Koons, M. and C. Arbuckle Macleod, eds. 2021. The Egyptian Mummies and Coffins of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. University Press of Colorado.

Koons, M. 2015. Moche Socio-Political Dynamics and the Role of Licapa II, Chicama Valley, Peru. Latin American Antiquity 26(4): 473-492. DOI: 10.7183/1045-6635.26.4.473

Koons, M. and B. Alex. 2014. Reevaluating Moche Chronology through Bayesian Methods. Radiocarbon 56(3): 1039-1055. DOI: 10.2458/56.16919

Quilter, J. and M. Koons. 2012. The Fall of the Moche: A Critique of Claims for the South America’s First State. Latin American Antiquity 23(2): 127-143. DOI: 10.7183/1045-6635.23.2.127

Astor House

In Summer 2021, the Astor House Community Archaeology Project (AHCAP) took place in an exciting collaboration between the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Metcalf Archaeological Consultants, and the new leasee of the historic building, Foothills Art Center. Opened in 1867 in Golden, Colorado, the Astor House was at various times both a hotel and boarding house until 1971, at which point it was saved from being torn down by community efforts and the Golden Landmark Association. It then reopened as the Astor House Hotel Museum where visitors learned about the 104-year history of the boarding house. After closing in 2015, the City of Golden worked to find new use for the beloved and historic building. In 2022, Foothills Art Center will house artists, classrooms, galleries, and offices in the National Landmark building.

Over three weeks in June and July 2021, 29 volunteers uncovered over 20,000 artifacts from targeted excavations in the backyard of the building. These artifacts tell of the long history of the boarding house and museum, and include remains of foods cooked and served at the house, trash and refuse, and personal items, including coins, buttons, and combs. Volunteers included archaeologists from local Cultural Resource Management firms, as well as many students representing Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, University of Colorado Denver, University of Denver, and Community College of Denver. Before closing and refilling the three excavation units, Community Connections, LLC gave sold out tours to the public during Foothills Art Center Art Week, where in just two days over 200 guests saw the finished and open excavation units, learned about archaeology, stratigraphy, and the artifacts recovered, toured the interior of the building, and learned about the future plans for the space as an artistic and community hub from Foothills Art Center.

Artifact analysis is coming to a close and more information on the findings will be available soon. For updates check the official project Instagram page at @astorhousearchaeologyproject or reach out to Project PIs, Amy Gillaspie and Dr. Michele Koons!

Astor House Artifacts

Pañamarca Landscapes

Nepeña Valley, Peru

Pañamarca in the Nepeña Valley, Peru, has inspired explorers, archaeologists, artists, and historians for generations. Situated atop a granite outcrop, the site consists of an imposing stepped adobe platform, two lower—yet expansive—adobe platforms, a large adobe walled plaza, and numerous smaller structures. Elaborate multicolored Moche period (500–800 CE) murals depicting priests, warriors, and supernatural beings decorate the plaza and platform walls. Excavation and documentation of some of these murals took place in 2010 by Dr. Lisa Trever. In addition to the Moche component to the site, earlier and later stone architecture and ceramics indicate that people were using the site from at least 2,300 years ago up until the 1300s CE. The current research program is a collaboration between Dr. Trever (Columbia University), Dr. Hugo Ikehara (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile), Dr. Marco Pfeiffer (University of Chile, Santiago) and Denver Museum of Nature & Science curator Dr. Michele Koons. The work aims to better understand the cultural chronology of the site and past use and development of the surrounding landscape.

Women in Science

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is home to many amazing Women in Science. From anthropology to food services, guest services, leadership and much more, these individuals help the Museum and its guests learn, grow and get excited about science! To honor that, we will be running a Women in Science series to highlight some of our incredible staff and their work.

First up is Dr. Michele Koons! Dr. Koons is a Curator of Archaeology, and specializes in Andean, Southwest, and public archaeology. She has conducted archaeological research throughout the United States, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and China. She’s also going to France soon for a project! Get to know Dr. Koons by watching this video, and be sure to follow her on Instragram at @dr.michele.koons for more on her latest work.

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