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Transition 3 - Village formation in Pueblo societies (en)


Tim Kohler

Transition summary

In general in the U.S. Southwest the period from AD 600 to 1200 saw strong population growth, emergence of villages with a hundred or more households from much smaller settlements, and some degree of increased sociopolitical complexity, in the context of highly varied amounts of warfare.
The Pueblo area, in the northern Southwest, participated fully in these changes. Here I concentrate on one "window" into the Pueblo area, centered on the central Mesa Verde region in Southwest Colorado.

Spatial evolution

The case-study discussed here can be viewed as a high-temporal resolution view of a small portion of transitions 2 or 4. Essentially, we are seeing the expansion of a successful Neolithic way of life, developed earlier to the south, onto a high semi-arid plateau. Farming success here was quite sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and precipitation. Until the last part of the sequence, when turkey becomes common in archaeological deposits, there were no domestic food animals, a fact probably contributing to settlement instability.

In overview, in the central Mesa Verde region of southwestern Colorado, USA, we see:

  1. Colonization of this region by dry-farmers ca. AD 600, followed by in-situ population growth, more immigration, and formation of villages with ca. 100 households by the mid-AD 800s.
  2. Partial depopulation in the AD 900s, possibly connected with cooling temperatures, drought, and local depletions of deer and woodlands. Villages collapse though some hamlets remain;
  3. Recolonization ca. AD 1070—possibly resisted by the remnant populations—by groups apparently aligned with the “Chacoan Phenomenon” to the southeast, in New Mexico. Once again we see villages with ca. 100 households. This time, at the center of most villages there is a “Great House” that may have been the residence of the local elites. These Great Houses are similar to, though smaller than, the Great Houses first built in Chaco Canyon in the late-AD 800s.
  4. The collapse of the Great House system in Chaco Canyon in the mid-AD 1100s brings a very high level of violence to Southwestern Colorado. People remained in many of the same villages, although there was a gradual migration of village location to canyon heads;
  5. The central Mesa Verde region—along with the entire northern Southwest—was depopulated in the late-AD 1200s, in conjunction with a severe drought and cooling temperatures. Remnant populations relocated to the south and east, forming part of the population still living in contemporary Pueblos.

Transition analysis axes.

Brief bibliography

  • Kohler, Timothy A., and Charles Reed. “Explaining the Structure and Timing of Formation of Pueblo I Villages in the Northern US Southwest.” Sustainable Lifeways: Cultural Persistence in an Ever-changing Environment (2011): 150–179.
  • Kohler, Timothy A., and Mark D. Varien. “A Scale Model of Seven Hundred Years of Farming Settlements in Southwestern Colorado.” Becoming Villagers: Comparing Early Village Societies 6 (2010): 37. 
  • Kohler, Timothy A., and Mark D. Varien. Emergence and Collapse of Early Villages: Models of Central Mesa Verde Archaeology. Vol. 6. University of California Press, 2012.
  • Varien, Mark D., Scott G. Ortman, Timothy A. Kohler, Donna M. Glowacki, and C. David Johnson. “Historical Ecology in the Mesa Verde Region: Results from the Village Ecodynamics Project.” American Antiquity (2007): 273–299.