Forests, Fires and People: Reconstructing Human-Natural Interactions on the Jemez Plateau, New Mexico With Tree Rings


The Jemez Plateau of northern New Mexico contains a rich archaeological and tree-ring record characterizing interactions between humans, forests, climate and fire over the past 500 years. Ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper woodlands on the Plateau were occupied by roughly 6,000 people within an area of about 30,000 hectares during the early 1600’s. Using dendrochronology we reconstructed detailed fire and forest histories directly on and surrounding several large, ancestral Jemez village sites (i.e determining tree establishment dates and fire events). Comparisons with site provenance from ceramic assemblages and structural tree-ring dates enabled us to assess human, forest, and fire interactions. We found (1) reduced or no fires occurring immediately around villages during occupations prior to 1680 CE, (2) trees re-established around and on village sites within approximately 30 years of site de-population, and (3) subsequently, spreading, low severity surface fires began burning at intervals of about 5 to 20 years, until about 1880-1900 CE when fire occurrence generally ceased due to intense livestock grazing. This study demonstrates novel applications of terminus ante quem tree-ring dating of site occupation and utilization, fire and forest dynamics. These methods have potential for application elsewhere, and may complement other chronological methods and archaeological interpretations.

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Cite this Record

Forests, Fires and People: Reconstructing Human-Natural Interactions on the Jemez Plateau, New Mexico With Tree Rings. Joshua Farella, Thomas Swetnam, Mathew Liebmann. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395241)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -115.532; min lat: 30.676 ; max long: -102.349; max lat: 42.033 ;