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Concept: Puebloan peoples


The 13th century Puebloan depopulation of the Four Corners region of the US Southwest is an iconic episode in world prehistory. Studies of its causes, as well as its consequences, have a bearing not only on archaeological method and theory, but also social responses to climate change, the sociology of social movements, and contemporary patterns of cultural diversity. Previous research has debated the demographic scale, destinations, and impacts of Four Corners migrants. Much of this uncertainty stems from the substantial differences in material culture between the Four Corners vs. hypothesized destination areas. Comparable biological evidence has been difficult to obtain due to the complete departure of farmers from the Four Corners in the 13th century CE and restrictions on sampling human remains. As an alternative, patterns of genetic variation among domesticated species were used to address the role of migration in this collapse. We collected mitochondrial haplotypic data from dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) remains from archaeological sites in the most densely-populated portion of the Four Corners region, and the most commonly proposed destination area for that population under migration scenarios. Results are consistent with a large-scale migration of humans, accompanied by their domestic turkeys, during the 13th century CE. These results support scenarios that suggest contemporary Pueblo peoples of the Northern Rio Grande are biological and cultural descendants of Four Corners populations.

Concepts: DNA, Population, Dog, Arizona, Archaeology, Wild Turkey, Four Corners, Puebloan peoples


Cycles of demographic and organizational change are well documented in Neolithic societies, but the social and ecological processes underlying them are debated. Such periodicities are implicit in the “Pecos classification,” a chronology for the pre-Hispanic U.S. Southwest introduced in Science in 1927 which is still widely used. To understand these periodicities, we analyzed 29,311 archaeological tree-ring dates from A.D. 500 to 1400 in the context of a novel high spatial resolution, annual reconstruction of the maize dry-farming niche for this same period. We argue that each of the Pecos periods initially incorporates an “exploration” phase, followed by a phase of “exploitation” of niches that are simultaneously ecological, cultural, and organizational. Exploitation phases characterized by demographic expansion and aggregation ended with climatically driven downturns in agricultural favorability, undermining important bases for social consensus. Exploration phases were times of socio-ecological niche discovery and development.

Concepts: Time, Menstrual cycle, Native Americans in the United States, Texas, Invasive species, Colorado, New Mexico, Puebloan peoples


High-precision accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) (14)C dates of scarlet macaw (Ara macao) skeletal remains provide the first direct evidence from Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico that these Neotropical birds were procured from Mesoamerica by Pueblo people as early as ∼A.D. 900-975. Chaco was a prominent prehistoric Pueblo center with a dense concentration of multistoried great houses constructed from the 9th through early 12th centuries. At the best known great house of Pueblo Bonito, unusual burial crypts and significant quantities of exotic and symbolically important materials, including scarlet macaws, turquoise, marine shell, and cacao, suggest societal complexity unprecedented elsewhere in the Puebloan world. Scarlet macaws are known markers of social and political status among the Pueblos. New AMS (14)C-dated scarlet macaw remains from Pueblo Bonito demonstrate that these birds were acquired persistently from Mesoamerica between A.D. 900 and 1150. Most of the macaws date before the hypothesized apogeal Chacoan period (A.D. 1040-1110) to which they are commonly attributed. The 10th century acquisition of these birds is consistent with the hypothesis that more formalized status hierarchies developed with significant connections to Mesoamerica before the post-A.D. 1040 architectural florescence in Chaco Canyon.

Concepts: Macaw, Ancient Pueblo Peoples, Scarlet Macaw, Ara, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Puebloan peoples