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Archaeological Implications of Vegetation Shifts in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert

Author(s): Cynthia Munoz ; Leonard Kemp ; Robert Hard ; Raymond Mauldin

Year: 2015

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Summary

Modern climate and ecological data from the Northern Chihuahuan Desert suggests that precipitation is temporally and spatially localized leading to pulses of plant production. Regional paleo-environmental models have been developed that focus on large temporal and spatial scales. These scales obscure short-term human adaptation within this region. We present a study of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes of bone collagen from leporids that can provide a high-resolution proxy for aspects of the region’s paleoecology. Cottontails and jackrabbits have a generalized feeding strategy, restricted home range, and short lives. As such, their diet, and their collagen, likely reflect local vegetation regimes at short (ca. 2 year) temporal scales. Focusing on carbon as an indicator of vegetation types and nitrogen as an indicator of aridity, 33 modern and 212 prehistoric (AD 600 to AD 1350) leporid specimens from 10 archaeological sites were analyzed. Our results show a dramatic shift in vegetation and an increase in climate variability over time that can be used to develop high-resolution models of prehistoric human adaptation within arid settings.

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Archaeological Implications of Vegetation Shifts in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert. Leonard Kemp, Cynthia Munoz, Raymond Mauldin, Robert Hard. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 398027)


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Spatial Coverage

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

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America