Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Risk, Climatic Variability, and the Study of Southwestern Prehistory: An Evolutionary Perspective

  • Daniel O. Larson (a1), Hector Neff (a2), Donald A. Graybill (a3), Joel Michaelsen (a4) and Elizabeth Ambos (a5)...

Two recent developments in southwestern archaeology are brought together in this paper. First, theoreticians have begun to argue that the archaeological record should be viewed as the product of selection-driven evolution. Second, tree-ring research has produced a highly detailed history of climate for a large area of the northern Southwest. We view the record of climatic oscillations and extreme events as a record of the strength of selection favoring stabilization of specialized agricultural strategies in the arid northern Southwest. Published data from Black Mesa provide a cultural record of sufficient precision to permit comparison with the climatic record, while new data from Vermillion Cliffs, southern Utah, document one local end-product of an evolutionary sequence shaped to an important degree by the long-term variability of climate. Anasazi occupation of many regions failed to persist through the “Great Drought” of the 1270s. From a local perspective, this extreme climatic event caused adaptations shaped by selection prior to the 1270s to fail; from a broader temporal-spatial perspective, however, the drought must be seen as part of the selective regime that shaped subsequent human adaptation to the northern Southwest.


Este artículo Integra dos recientes desarrollos en la arqueología del suroeste norteamericano. En primer lugar, teoristas arguyen que el registro arqueologíco debe considerarse como el producto de evolutión selectiva. En segundo lugar, la dendrocronología ha producido un historia climática muy detallada para una gran área en la parte norte del suroeste. Interpretamos el registro de oscilaciones climáticas y eventos extremos como el récord de lafuerza de selectión quefavoreció la estabilización de estrategias agrícolas especializadas en el norte árido del suroeste. Informatión publicada proveniente de Black Mesa provee un registro cultural con precisión suficiente para permitir una comparación con el registro climático, mientras que nuevos datos de Vermillion Cliffs, Utah meridional, documentan un producto local de la secuencia evolucionaria configurada en alto grado por una variabilidad climática a largo plazo. La ocupación Anasazi de muchas regiones no persistió durante la “Gran Sequía” de la década de 1270. Desde unaperspectiva local, la “Gran Sequía” ocasionó una caida en las adaptaciones selectivas antes de 1270; desde una perspectiva espacio-temporal más amplia, no obstante, este evento climático extremo debe ser visto como parte de un régimen selectivo que configuró la adaptatión humana subsiguiente en la parte norte del suroeste.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

W S. Abruzzi 1987 Ecology Stability and Community Diversity during Mormon Colonization of the Little Colorado River Basin. Human Ecology 15: 317338.

T. Caraco 1980 On Foraging Time Allocation in a Stochastic Environment. Ecology 61: 119128.

T. Caraco 1983 White Crowned Sparrows (Zonotricha leucophrys): Foraging Preferences in a Risky Environment. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 12: 6369.

E. Cashdan 1985 Coping with Risk: Reciprocity among the Basarwa of Northern Botswana. Man 20: 454474.

E. Cashdan 1987 Trade and Its Origins on the Boteti River, Botswana. Journal of Anthropological Research 43: 121138.

L. S. Cordell , and F. Plog 1979 Escaping the Confines of Normative Thought: A Reevaluation of Puebloan Prehistory. American Antiquity 52: 565577.

J. S. Dean , R. C. Euler , G. J. Gumerman , F. Plog , R. H. Hevly , 1985 Human Behavior, Demography, and Paleoenvironment on the Colorado Plateaus. American Antiquity 50: 537554.

R. C. Dunnell 1978 Style and Function: A Fundamental Dichotomy. American Antiquity 35: 305319.

R. C. Dunnell 1989 Aspects of the Application of Evolutionary Theory in Archaeology. In Archaeological Thought in America, edited by C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky , pp. 3549. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

W. H. Durham 1990 Advances in Evolutionary Culture Theory. Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 187210.

R. C Euler , G. J. Gumerman , T. N. V Karlstrom , J. S. Dean, 1979 The Colorado Plateaus: Cultural Dynamics and Paleoenvironment. Science 205: 10891101.

H. C. Fritts 1976 Tree Rings and Climate. Academic Press, New York.

S. J. Gould 1989 Punctuated Equilibrium in Fact and Theory. Journal of Social Biological Structure 12: 117136.

G. J. Gumerman 1991 Trends in Western Anasazi Archaeology: From Fewkes to the Future. Kiva 56: 99122.

D. O. Larson 1994 California Climatic Reconstructions. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 25: 225253.

D. O. Larson 1996 Population Growth, Agricultural Intensification, and Culture Change among the Virgin Branch Anasazi. Journal of Field Archaeology 23: 5576.

D. O. Larson , J. Johnson , and J. Michaelsen 1994 Missionization among the Coastal Chumash of California: A Study of Risk Minimization Strategies. American Anthropologist 96: 263300.

R. D. Leonard 1989 Resource Specialization, Population Growth, and Agricultural Production in the American Southwest. American Antiquity 54: 491503.

R. D. Leonard , and G. T. Jones 1987 Elements of an Inclusive Evolutionary Model in Archaeology. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 6: 199219.

R. D. Leonard , and H. E. Reed 1993 Population Aggregation in the Prehistoric American Southwest: A Selectionist Model. American Antiquity 58: 648661.

H. Neff 1993 Theory, Sampling, and Analytical Techniques in Archaeological Study of Prehistoric Ceramics. American Antiquity 58: 2344.

S. Plog , and J. L. Hantman 1990 Chronology Construction and the Study of Prehistoric Culture Change. Journal of Field Archaeology 17: 439456.

D. Rindos 1984 The Origins of Agriculture: An Evolutionary Perspective. Academic Press, New York.

D. W Stephens , and E. L. Charnov 1982 Optimal Foraging; Some Simple Stochastic Models. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 10: 251263.

C. W Stockton , and D. M. Meko 1975 A Long-Term History of Drought Occurrence in Western United States as Inferred from Tree Rings. Weatherwise 28: 244249.

B. Winterhalder 1980 Environmental Analysis in Human Evolution and Adaptation Research. Human Ecology 8: 135170.

B. Winterhalder 1986 Diet Choice, Risk, and Food Sharing in a Stochastic Environment. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 5: 205223.

B. Winterhalder 1988 The Population Ecology of Hunter-Gatherers and Their Prey. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 7: 289328.

B. Winterhalder , W. Baillargeon , F. Cappelletto , I. R. Daniel , 1988 The Population Ecology of Hunter-Gatherers and Their Prey. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 7: 289328.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0002-7316
  • EISSN: 2325-5064
  • URL: /core/journals/american-antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 1 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 25 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 20th January 2017 - 24th August 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.