Human Vulnerability to Climatic Dry Periods in the Prehistoric U.S. Southwest

Author(s): Scott Ingram

Year: 2010

Summary

This study investigates the vulnerability of subsistence agriculturalists to food shortfalls associated with dry periods. I approach this effort by evaluating prominent and often implicit conceptual models of vulnerability to dry periods used by archaeologists and other scholars investigating past human adaptations in dry climates. The conceptual models I evaluate rely on an assumption of regional-scale resource marginality and emphasize the contribution of demographic conditions (settlement population levels and watershed population density) and environmental conditions (settlement proximity to perennial rivers and annual precipitation levels) to vulnerability to dry periods. I evaluate the models and the spatial scales they might apply by identifying the extent to which these conditions influenced the relationship between dry-period severity and residential abandonment in central Arizona from A.D. 1200 to 1450. I use this long-term relationship as an indicator of potential vulnerability to dry periods. I use tree-ring precipitation and streamflow reconstructions to identify dry periods. Critically examining the relationship between precipitation conditions and residential abandonment potentially sparked by the risk of food shortfalls due to demographic and environmental conditions is a necessary step toward advancing understanding of the influences of changing climate conditions on human behavior.

Results of this study support conceptual models that emphasize the contribution of high watershed population density and watershed-scale population-resource imbalances to relatively high vulnerability to dry periods. Models that emphasize the contribution of: (1) settlement population levels, (2) settlement locations distant from perennial rivers, (3) settlement locations in areas of low average annual precipitation; and (4) settlement-scale population-resource imbalances to relatively high vulnerability to dry periods are, however, not supported. Results also suggest that people living in watersheds with the greatest access to and availability of water were the most vulnerable to dry periods, or at least most likely to move when confronted with dry conditions. Thus, commonly held assumptions of differences in vulnerability due to settlement population levels and inherently water poor conditions are not supported. The assumption of regional-scale resource marginality and widespread vulnerability to dry periods in this region of the U.S. Southwest is also not consistently supported throughout the study area.

Cite this Record

Human Vulnerability to Climatic Dry Periods in the Prehistoric U.S. Southwest. Scott Ingram. Doctoral Dissertation. Arizona State University (ASU), School of Human Evolution and Social Change. 2010 ( tDAR id: 457658) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8457658

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1200 to 1450

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Scott Ingram

File Information

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