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Leaving Mesa Verde

Peril and Change in the Thirteenth-Century Southwest

Timothy A. Kohler

Publication Year: 2013

It is one of the great mysteries in the archaeology of the Americas: the depopulation of the northern Southwest in the late thirteenth-century AD. Considering the numbers of people affected, the distances moved, the permanence of the departures, the severity of the surrounding conditions, and the human suffering and culture change that accompanied them, the abrupt conclusion to the farming way of life in this region is one of the greatest disruptions in recorded history.<br><br>Much new paleoenvironmental data, and a great deal of archaeological survey and excavation, permit the fifteen scientists represented here much greater precision in determining the timing of the depopulation, the number of people affected, and the ways in which northern Pueblo peoples coped--and failed to cope--with the rapidly changing environmental and demographic conditions they encountered throughout the 1200s. In addition, some of the scientists in this volume use models to provide insights into the processes behind the patterns they find, helping to narrow the range of plausible explanations.<br><br>What emerges from these investigations is a highly pertinent story of conflict and disruption as a result of climate change, environmental degradation, social rigidity, and conflict. Taken as a whole, these contributions recognize this era as having witnessed a competition between differing social and economic organizations, in which selective migration was considerably hastened by severe climatic, environmental, and social upheaval. Moreover, the chapters show that it is at least as true that emigration led to the collapse of the northern Southwest as it is that collapse led to emigration.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

When asked about the fabled disappearance of the Ancestral Pueblo people from the Southwest’s Four Corners region, Tewa anthropologist Alfonso Ortiz famously quipped, “The Anasazi didn’t disappear, they’re running bingo parlors in the Rio Grande Valley.” Now, of course, the bingo parlors have morphed into casinos, but Ortiz’s point remains the ...

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pp. ix-xiii

In this book, we seek to explain one of the classic problems in the archaeology of the Americas: the depopulation of the northern Southwest in the late AD 1200s. At the same time, we hope to contribute to migration studies more generally. The prehispanic history of the U.S. Southwest—even that of “sedentary farmers”—was marked by ...

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1. Depopulation of the Northern San Juan Region: Historical Review and Archaeological Context

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pp. 1-33

The northern San Juan region, an area defined in this volume as the drainages that empty into the San Juan River from the north, is one of the world’s foremost archaeological areas. This is attested to by the extent of the public lands devoted to archaeological preservation and public interpretation. In southwestern Colorado, these include Mesa ...

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2. Depopulation of the Northern Southwest: A Macroregional Perspective

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pp. 34-52

Our objective in this chapter is to provide a macroregional context for the depopulation of the northern Southwest. We propose to do this through the use of the Coalescent Communities Database (Wilcox et al. 2003), which allows us to illustrate demographic trends throughout the Greater Southwest in the late prehispanic period. This also allows us to discuss some of the subtleties and complications of regional depopulation ...

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3. Tree-Ring Dates and Demographic Change in the Southern Colorado Plateau and Rio Grande Regions

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pp. 53-74

In this chapter, tree-ring dates from the southern Colorado Plateau, Mogollon Highlands, and Rio Grande areas (fi g. 3.1) (hereafter referred to as the study area) are used to estimate regional-scale timber-harvesting and construction activities between AD 600 and 1600 (the Basketmaker III through Pueblo IV periods). Within that time span, we focus our attention particularly on the ...

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4. The Climate of the Depopulation of the Northern Southwest

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pp. 75-101

In this chapter, I examine the climate of the northern Southwest between AD 1000 and 1400, a period with major cultural and demographic transitions, including the complete depopulation of the northern San Juan region and the “Northern Periphery” (see Allison, this vol.) during the thirteenth century. My goal is to present an up-to-date synthesis of southwestern climatic variability, highlighting ...

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5. A New Paleoproductivity Reconstruction for Southwestern Colorado, and Its Implications for Understanding Thirteenth-Century Depopulation

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pp. 102-127

With its well-known and high-resolution archaeological record, the northern San Juan region is a place where we can hope to make relatively firm statements about the causes of human behavior. And as Varien recounts in the first chapter of this volume, no event or process in this region has attracted more popular and scientific attention than its thirteenth-century depopulation. ...

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6. The End of Farming in the “Northern Periphery” of the Southwest

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pp. 128-155

Prehispanic farmers belonging to the Virgin and Fremont traditions once occupied most of Utah and adjacent parts of Arizona and Nevada. Through much of the twentieth century, these areas were called the “Northern Periphery” of the Southwest, but in recent decades, both Fremont and Virgin have often been left out of syntheses of southwestern archaeology—even though they clearly had strong connections ...

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7. The Impact of Long-Term Residential Occupation of Community Centers on Local Plant and Animal Resources

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pp. 156-179

This chapter presents archaeobotanical and faunal data from Ancestral Pueblo contexts in the Sand Canyon Pueblo locality (see Lipe 1992:2–3, fig. 1.3) of the central Mesa Verde region to provide a long-term perspective on the use of economic plants and animals in the decades and centuries leading up to the region’s depopulation. The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center (CCAC) conducted ...

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8. Catalysts of the Thirteenth-Century Depopulation of Sand Canyon Pueblo and the Central Mesa Verde Region

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pp. 180-199

The identity of the factors causing all the Pueblo farmers in the northern San Juan area to leave by the late AD 1200s looms as perhaps the most intriguing and intensely pondered archaeological issue in the northern Southwest. For more than a century, a variety of possible environmental and social causes have been proposed, including drought, cooler temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, environmental ...

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9. The Social and Cultural Contexts of the Central Mesa Verde Region during the Thirteenth-Century Migrations

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pp. 200-221

Between AD 1220 and 1290, the northern San Juan region went from being one of the most densely populated areas of the prehispanic Southwest to being entirely depopulated. Explanations for this widespread departure emphasize drought, resource depletion, and ensuing violence as prime stimuli underlying the depopulation (Cordell 2000; Haas and Creamer 1993; Kohler et al. 2008; Kuckelman 2002:250; LeBlanc 1999; ...

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10. Evidence of a Mesa Verde Homeland for the Tewa Pueblos

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pp. 222-261

One of the most enduring and compelling questions of southwestern archaeology is what happened to the many thousands of people who lived in the Mesa Verde region in the AD 1200s. By the middle decades of that century, Ancestral Pueblo people had lived in the region for more than six hundred years, the Montezuma Valley itself was home to approximately twenty thousand ...

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11. Lost in Transit: The Central Mesa Verde Archaeological Complex

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pp. 262-284

In the mid– to late AD 1200s, a distinctive archaeological complex flourished in the central Mesa Verde area (CMV) of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah.1 Including specific types of material culture, architecture, and community spatial patterning, this complex was a regular part of the cultural production and environment of thousands ...

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12. Remodeling Immigration: A Northern Rio Grande Perspective on Depopulation, Migration, and Donation-Side Models

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pp. 285-323

The depopulation of large parts of the northern Southwest by Pueblo people is an iconic event in the intellectual development of southwestern archaeology. The Pecos Classification (Kidder [1924] 1962) codified a complementary relationship between the central “Anasazi” area (the northern San Juan/Mesa Verde and southern San Juan/Chaco regions) and the eastern Pueblo area (the northern Rio Grande region). ...

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13. The Environmental, Demographic, and Behavioral Context of the Thirteenth-Century Depopulation of the Northern Southwest

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pp. 324-345

As a discussant for the Amerind Foundation Seminar “New Light on the Thirteenth-Century Depopulation of the Northern Southwest,” I was assigned two seemingly unrelated topics: (1) discuss the environmental considerations raised in these papers, and (2) provide a comparative perspective on the thirteenth-century abandonment of the northern Southwest ...

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14. Advances in Understanding the Thirteenth-Century Depopulation of the Northern Southwest

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pp. 346-363

In the two decades since David Anthony’s (1990) “Baby and the Bathwater” article redirected our attention to migration, archaeologists have become increasingly sophisticated in their understanding of prehistoric population movement (see, for example, Bellwood and Renfrew 2002). This is especially true in the Southwest, where some scholars never quit ...

References Cited

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pp. 365-419

About the Contributors

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pp. 421-428


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pp. 429-437

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599684
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816519125

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2013