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New Software Brings Hopi History to Life

The Hopi people can now visit their ancestral villages with software created to inspire Native American youth.
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Rather than write a book about ancestral Hopi villages and migration patterns, associate professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Redlands Wes Bernardini has been working with the university and the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office on mapping software letting users travel through 3D reconstructions of 32 Hopi villages.

Esri’s ArcGIS Explorer software is an interactive tool allowing users to explore Hopi villages that used to stretch from what would eventually become Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona south to Central America.

“With a few clicks of a mouse, the landscape portal will digitally resurrect old travel routes and bring villages that time has forgot back to life on a computer screen,” reported Jerry Rice in the spring 2011 issue of Redlands Magazine.

And that’s what Bernardini wanted to do, bring the past into the digital age so it would appeal more to youth.

On June 22 Bernardini took the Hopi Landscape Portal to show students at the Hopi Junior Senior High School, he said there was a “definite neat-o factor” when the students viewed the villages. The portal will be used in Hopi classrooms starting in the fall, and he said his group will be working with teachers on incorporating it into the curriculum.

“I hope the students will better visualize these important—and very impressive—ancestral villages,” Bernardini said in an e-mail to Indian Country Today Media Network. “I hope they might see some villages that remind them of contemporary Hopi villages, and others that look very different. In both cases, I hope to get them asking questions about continuity and change.”

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Bernardini has been working with the Hopi for the last decade on mapping the ancestral villages. He uses conventional archaeological data as well as Hopi traditional knowledge to get a clearer picture of the past.

“Everything in my work started with, and continually goes back to, Hopi oral tradition,” he told ICTMN. “It was the clan migration traditions recounted to me by Hopi colleagues that first helped me to see that archaeological ideas about Hopi migrations were incomplete, and each visit to Hopi adds new pieces of information that help me to see the archaeological record in a new light.”

And he said the Hopi community’s reaction has evolved from “one of hesitation and suspicion to much more enthusiasm for our work.”

The village of Songoopavi watched a slide presentation of a virtual 3D reconstruction of 800 years of the village’s history last year, after which Bernardini gave them a large color poster representing the village in 1600 AD. He said this got a “very positive reaction,” and the poster is now hanging in the community office. He is currently working a similar presentation for First Mesa villages.

Bernardini said there aren’t currently plans to distribute the software beyond Hopi classrooms, but depending on student responses it’s a possibility.

The video below demonstrates the Hopi Land Portal software: