Books & Movies

Canyon del Muerto and Ann Axtell Morris

Ann Axtell Morris

I’ve mentioned before that I studied archaeology in school, and spent time in college and after excavating and working at various research institutions. In college, one of my professors mentioned the archaeologist Ann Axtell Morris (1900-1945), who worked at important sites in the Yucatan and in the American Southwest. She wrote two popular books, Digging in Yucatan and Digging in the Southwest that are both well-researched from a scholarly perspective and fascinating reading for the layperson. She served as a site artist as well, notably during excavations at Canyon de Chelly, Mesa Verde, and perhaps most importantly at the Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza.

I was immediately fascinated by her. I wrote several papers about Ann in college, avidly read, then hunted down, my own copies of Digging in Yucatan and Digging in the Southwest, and even took classes on Southwestern archaeology. I haunted the museum at Boulder, where I went to college, which the Morrises had helped establish. I had a photograph of Ann (the photograph above) pinned on my bulletin board throughout college and the years immediately after. I read everything I could find–not much, unfortunately. Due to Ann’s early death, and the downplaying of women’s roles in archaeology during her lifetime, there is relatively little to learn about her that’s currently published, especially compared to her husband, Earl Morris (the real-life inspiration for Indiana Jones.)

Abigail Lawrie as Ann Axtell Morris in Canyon del Muerto. Photograph via the Smithsonian Magazine article linked above.

It’s not an understatement to say I was thrilled to see that there is a new film about Ann Morris currently in production! I stumbled across this fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine all about the film. Today, Ann is not widely known, and her books have fallen out of print. I am so excited that Coerte Voorhees, the director, was able to secure funding, stars, and, most importantly, permission from the Najavo Nation to film at Canyon de Chelly.

As a former anthropologist and archaeologist, I greatly appreciate this production’s commitment to accuracy and honoring history–not just the life of Ann Axtell Morris, but the history of the Navajo. The Smithsonian Magazine article delves deeply into this production–the history behind the making of this film, the actual filming, and the collaborations between filmmakers and the Navajo–so I won’t repeat that here. Suffice to say that I am very much looking forward to finally seeing Ann Axtell Morris come to life on the screen, more than a decade after I first learned about her.

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