Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 61–109

Factors Controlling Pre-Columbian and Early Historic Maize Productivity in the American Southwest, Part 2: The Chaco Halo, Mesa Verde, Pajarito Plateau/Bandelier, and Zuni Archaeological Regions


DOI: 10.1007/s10816-010-9083-y

Cite this article as:
Benson, L.V. J Archaeol Method Theory (2011) 18: 61. doi:10.1007/s10816-010-9083-y


Chemical and nutrient analyses of 471 soil samples from 161 sites within four archaeological regions (Pajarito Plateau/Bandelier, Zuni, Mesa Verde, and the Chaco Halo) were combined with historical climate data in order to evaluate the agricultural productivity of each region. In addition, maize productivity and field-life calculations were performed using organic-nitrogen (N) values from the upper 50 cm of soil in each region and a range (1–3%/year) of N-mineralization rates. The end-member values of this range were assumed representative of dry and wet climate states. With respect to precipitation and heat, the Pajarito Plateau area has excellent agricultural potential; the agricultural potentials of the Zuni and Mesa Verde regions are good; and the agricultural potential of the Chaco Halo is poor. Calculations of N mineralization and field life indicate that Morfield Valley in Mesa Verde should be able to provide 10 bu/ac of maize for decades (without the addition of N) when organic N-mineralization rates exceed 2%. Productivity and field-life potential decrease in the following order: Zuni, Mesa Verde, Bandelier, Chaco Halo. The Chaco Halo is very unproductive; e.g., 10 bushels per acre can be achieved within the Halo only from soils having the highest organic N concentration (third quartile) and which undergo the highest rate (3%) of N mineralization.


SouthwestMaize agricultureSoil chemistryNitrogen mineralizationChaco HaloMesa VerdeZuniBandelier

Supplementary material

10816_2010_9083_MOESM1_ESM.xls (31 kb)
Supplementary Table 1Chemistry of soils from the western Dolores area (XLS 31 kb)
10816_2010_9083_MOESM2_ESM.xls (229 kb)
Supplementary Table 2Site, location, and chemical and physical data for soil samples from the four archaeological areas. (XLS 229 kb)

Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Research ProgramU.S. Geological SurveyBoulderUSA