Climatic Change

, Volume 83, Issue 1–2, pp 187–213 | Cite as

Anasazi (Pre-Columbian Native-American) Migrations During The Middle-12Th and Late-13th Centuries – Were they Drought Induced?

  • Larry BensonEmail author
  • Kenneth Petersen
  • John Stein


Severe droughts in the middle-12th and late-13th centuries appear to have affected Anasazi (pre-Columbian Native American) populations. During the first drought most of the great houses in the central San Juan Basin were vacated; the second drought resulted in the abandonment of the Four Corners region. During the first drought, villages may not have been completely abandoned. The multi-year drought periods probably were characterized by reductions in both winter and summer precipitation. Maize is dependent on winter precipitation for its germination and initial growth and on summer (monsoonal) precipitation for its continued growth. Reductions in precipitation are hypothesized to have resulted in low yields of maize, the dietary staple of the Anasazi. A comparison of historic climate data and tree-ring-based reconstructions of precipitation in the Four Corners region with tree-ring-based reconstructions of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) indicate that severe and persistent drought in the Four Corners region occurs when the PDO is negative and the AMO is positive. Historic climate data from the greater San Juan Basin indicate that a negative PDO is characterized by reductions in both water-year and summer precipitation, reinforcing the concept that at least some multi-year droughts involved weakening of the summer monsoon with attendant decreases in the yields of maize.


Summer Precipitation Maize Yield Palmer Drought Severity Index Corner Region Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ayers, R. S. and Westcot, D. W.: 1976, Water Quality of Agriculture, Irrigation and Drainage Paper No. 29, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.Google Scholar
  2. Axtell, R. L., Epstein, J. M., Dean, J. S., Gumerman, G. J., Swedlund, A. C., Harburger, J., Chakravarty, S., Hammond, R., Parker, J., and Parker, M.: 2002, ‘Population growth and collapse in a multiagent model of the Kayenta Anasazi in Long House Valley’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99, 7275–7279.Google Scholar
  3. Benson, L. V., Kashgarian, M., Rye, R. O., Lund, S. P., Paillet, F. L., Smoot, J., Kester, C., Mensing, S., Meko, D., and Lindstrom, S.:2002, ‘Holocene multidecadal and multicentennial droughts affecting Northern California and Nevada’, Quaternary Science Reviews 21, 659–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bradfield, M.: 1971, ‘The changing pattern of hopi agriculture’, Royal Anthropological Institute Occasional Paper No. 30, London.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, D. P. and Comrie, A. C.: 2002, ‘Sub-regional seasonal precipitation linkages to SOI and PDO in the Southwest United States’, Atmospheric Science Letters 3, 94–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, W. L., Anderson, E. G., and Tuchawena, R. Jr.: 1952, ‘Observations on three varieties of hopi maize’, American Journal of Botany 39, 597–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burns, B. T.: 1983, Simulated Anasazi Storage Behavior using Crop Yields Reconstructed from Tree Rings, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, Tucson.Google Scholar
  8. Carlyle, S. W., Parr, R. L., Hayes, G., and O'Rourke, D. H.: 2000, ‘Context of maternal lineages in the Greater Southwest’, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 113, 85–101.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Coltrain, J. B. and Leavitt, S. W.: 2002, ‘Climate and diet in fremont prehistory: Economic variability and abandonment of maize agriculture in the great salt lake basin’, American Antiquity 67, 453–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cook, E. R., Woodhouse, C. A, Eakin, C. M., Meko, D. M., and Stahle, D. W.: 2004, ‘Long-Term aridity changes in the Western United States’, Science 306, 1015–1018.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Cushing, F. H.: 1896, Outlines of Zuni Creation Myths, Government Printing Office, Washington D. C., p. 462.Google Scholar
  12. Cushing, F. H.: 1920, Zuni Breadstuff, Museum of the American Indian, Indian Notes and Monographs 8, New York.Google Scholar
  13. D'arrigo, R., Villalba, R., and Wiles, G.: 2001, ‘Tree-ring estimates of pacific decadal climate variability’, Climate Dynamics 18, 219–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dean, J. S.: 1988, ‘A Model of Anasazi Behavioral Adaptation’, in Gumerman, G. J. (ed.), The Anasazi in a Changing Environment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 25–44.Google Scholar
  15. Dean, J. S.: 1992, ‘Environmental Factors in the Evolution of the Chacoan Sociopolitical System’, in Doyel, D.E. (ed.), Anasazi Regional Organization and the Chacoan System, Maxwell Museum Anthropology Paper No. 5, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, pp. 35–43.Google Scholar
  16. Dean, J. S.: 1996, ‘Demography, environment, and subsistence stress’, in Tainter, J., Tainter, B. B. (eds.), Evolving Complexity and Environmental Risk in Prehistoric Southwest, Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, vol. XXIV, Addison-Wesley, New York, pp. 25–56.Google Scholar
  17. Dean, J. S.: 2004, ‘Anthropogenic environmental change in the southwest as viewed from the Colorado Plateau’, in Redman, C. L., James, S. R., Fish, P. R., and Rogers, J. D. (eds.), The Archaeology of Global Change: The Impact of Humans on the Environment, Smithsonian Books, Washington DC, pp. 191–207.Google Scholar
  18. Dean, J. S. and Funkhouser, G. S.: 2004, ‘Dendroclimatology and fluvial chronology in chaco canyon, Appendix A’, in Force, E. R., Vivian, R. G., Windes, T. C., and Dean, J. S., Relation of “Bonito” Paleo-channels and Base-Level Variations to Anasazi Occupation, Chaco, Canyon, New Mexico, Arizona State Museum Archaeological Series 194, 39–41.Google Scholar
  19. Dean, J. S., Euler, R. C., Gumerman, G. J., Plog, F., Hevly, R. H. and Karlstrom, T. N. V.: 1985, ‘Human behavior, demography, and paleoenvironment on the colorado plateaus’, American Antiquity 50, 537–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dean, J. S., Gumerman, G. J., Epstein, J. M., Axtell, Swedlund, A. C., Parker, M. T., and McCarroll, S.: 2000. ‘Understanding anasazi culture change through agent-based modeling’, in Kohler, T. A. and Gumerman, G. J. (eds.), Dynamics in Human and Primate Societies, Agent-Based Modeling of Social and Spatial Processes, Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 179–205.Google Scholar
  21. Douglass, A. E.: 1929, ’The secret of the Southwest solved by talkative tree rings’, National Geographic Magazine 56, 736–770.Google Scholar
  22. Eggan, F.: 1966, The American Indian: Perspectives for the Study of Social Chance, Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago.Google Scholar
  23. Enfield, D. B., Mestas-Nuñez, A. M., and Trimble, P. J.; 2001, ‘The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and its relation to rainfall and river flows in the Continental U.S., Geophysical Research Letters 28, 2077–2080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Forde, C. D.: 1931, ‘Hopi agriculture and land ownership’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 61, 357–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fowler, A. P. and Stein J. R.: 1992, ‘Anasazi great house in space, time, and paradigm’, in Doyel, D. E. (ed.), Anasazi Regional Organization and the Chaco System, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Anthropological Paper No. 5, Albuquerque, pp. 101–122.Google Scholar
  26. Fritts, H. C., Smith, D. G. and Stokes, M. A.: 1965, ‘The biological model for paleoclimatic interpretation of mesa verde tree-ring series’, in Osborne, D. (ed.), Contributions of the Wetherill Mesa Archaeological Project, Society for American Archaeology Memoir 19, Salt Lake City, pp. 101–121.Google Scholar
  27. Fye, J. K., Stahle, D. W., and Cook, E. R.; 2003, ‘Paleoclimatic analogs to twentieth-century moisture regimes across the United States’, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 84, 901–909.Google Scholar
  28. Gillespie, W. B.: 1984, ‘The environment of the chaco anasazi’, in Noble, D.G. (ed.), New Light on Chaco Canyon, Exploration, the Annual Bulletin of the School, of American Research, Santa Fe, pp. 37–44.Google Scholar
  29. Graumlich, L.: 1993, ‘A 1000-Year record of temperature and precipitation in the sierra nevada’, Quaternary Research 39, 249–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gray, S. T., Graumlich, L. J., Betancourt, J. L., and Pedersen, G. T.: 2004, ‘A tree-ring based reconstruction of the atlantic multidecadal oscillation since 1567 A.D.’, Geophysical Research Letters 31, L12205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Grissino-Mayer, H. D.: 1996, ‘A 2129-Year reconstruction of precipitation for Northwest New Mexico, USA’, in Dean, J. S., Meko, D. M. and Swetnam, T. W. (eds.), Tree Rings, Environment, and Humanity, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, pp. 191–204.Google Scholar
  32. Guttman, N. B.: 1998, ‘Comparing the palmer drought index and the standardized precipitation index’, Journal American Water Resources Association 34, 113–121.Google Scholar
  33. Hough, W.: 1915, The Hopi Indians, Cedar Falls, Iowa.Google Scholar
  34. Hunt, A.:1953, Archeological Survey of the La Sal Mountain Area, Utah, University of Utah Archeological Papers No. 14, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  35. Johnson, C. D., Kohler, T. A., and Cowan, J.: 2005, ‘Modeling historical ecology, thinking about contemporary systems’, American Anthropologist 107, 96–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Judge, W. J.: 1989, ‘Chaco Canyon – San Juan Basin’, in Cordell, L. S., and Gumerman, G. J. (eds.), Dynamics of Southwest Prehistory, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., pp. 1–12.Google Scholar
  37. Kerr, R. A.: 2000, ‘A North Atlantic climate pacemaker for the centuries’, Science 288, 1984–1986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kohler, T. A.: 2002, ‘The final 400 years of prehispanic agricultural society in the Mesa Verde region’, Kiva 66, 191–204.Google Scholar
  39. Kohler, T. A.: 2004, ‘Prehistoric human impact on upland North American southwestern environments: Evolutionary ecological perspectives’, in Redman, C. L., James, S. R., Fish, P. R., and Rogers, J. D. (eds.), The Archaeology of Global Change: The Impact of Humans on the Environment, Smithsonian Books, Washington DC, pp. 2241–2242.Google Scholar
  40. Larson, D. O. and Michaelsen, J.: 1990, ‘Impacts of climatic variability and population growth on virgin branch anasazi cultural developments’, American Antiquity 55, 227–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Larson, D. O., Neff, H., Graybill, D. A., Michaelsen, J. and Ambos, E.: 1996, ‘Risk, climatic variability, and the study of southwestern prehistory: An evolutionary perspective’, American Antiquity 61, 217–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lekson, S. H.: 1984, Great Pueblo Architecture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, p.299.Google Scholar
  43. Levy, J. E.: 1992, Orayvi Revisited, School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, p. 198Google Scholar
  44. Lindsay, L. W.: 1986, ‘Fremont Fragmentation’, in Condie, C. J. and Fowler, D. D. (eds.), Anthropology of the Desert West, University of Utah Anthropological Papers No. 110, Salt Lake City, pp. 229–252.Google Scholar
  45. Linsley, B. K., Wellington, G. M., and Schrag, D. P.: 2000, ‘Decadal sea surface temperature variability in the subtropical South Pacific from 1726 to 1997 A. D., Science 290, 1145–1148.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Lyneis, M. M.: 1996, ‘Pueblo II-Pueblo III change in southwestern Utah, the Arizona strip, and Southern Nevada’, in Adler, M. A. (ed.), The Prehistoric Pueblo World, AD 1150-1350, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, pp. 11–28.Google Scholar
  47. MacDonald, G. M. and Case, R. A.: 2005, ‘Variations in the Pacific decadal oscillation over the past millennium’, Geophysical Research Letters 32, L08703, 4 pp.Google Scholar
  48. Mantua, N. J., Hare, S. R., Zhang, Y., Wallace, J. M. and Francis, R. C.: 1997, ‘A pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production’, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 78, 1069–1079.Google Scholar
  49. McCabe, G. J., Palecki, M. A. and Betancourt, J. L.: 2004, ‘Pacific and Atlantic ocean influences on multidecadal drought frequency in the United States’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101, 4136–4141.Google Scholar
  50. Meko, D. M. and Baisan, C. H.: 2001, ‘Pilot study of latewood-width of conifers as an indicator of variability of summer rainfall in the North American monsoon region’, International Journal of Climatology 21, 697–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Minnis, P. E.: 1981, Economic and Organizational Responses to Food Stress by Non-Stratified Societies: An Example from Prehistoric New Mexico, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.Google Scholar
  52. Mitchell, V. L.: 1976, ‘The regionalization of climate in the Western United States’, Journal of Applied Meteorology 15, 920–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Muenchrath, D. A., Kuratomi, M., Sandor, J. A. and Homburg J. A.: 2002, ‘Observational study of maize production systems of Zuni farmers in semiarid New Mexico’, Journal of Ethnobiology 22, 1–33.Google Scholar
  54. Newman, D. E.: 1996, ‘Pollen and macrofossil analysis’, in Talbot, R. K. and Richens, L. D. (eds.), Steinaker Gap: An Early Fremont Farmstead, Museum of Peoples and Cultures Occasional Papers No. 2, Brigham Young University, Provo, pp. 123–148.Google Scholar
  55. Ni F., Cavazos, T., Hughes, M. K., Comrie, A. C., and Funkhouser, G.: 2002, ‘Cool-season precipitation in the southwestern USA since AD 1000: Comparison of linear and nonlinear techniques for reconstruction’, International Journal of Climatology 22, 1645–1662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Olson, R. A. and Sander, D. H.: 1988, ‘Corn production’, in Sprague, G. F. and Dudley, J. W. (eds.), Corn and Corn Improvement, 3rd edn., Agronomy Monograph 18, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America, Madison, Wisconsin, pp. 639–686.Google Scholar
  57. Petersen, K. L.: 1988, ‘Climate and the Dolores River Anasazi’, University of Utah Anthropological Papers 113, 1–151.Google Scholar
  58. Petersen, K. L.: 1994, ‘A warm and wet little climatic optimum and a cold and dry little ice age in the southern rocky mountains, U.S.A.’, Climatic Change 26, 243–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Robinson W.J. and Rose, M. R.: 1979, Preliminary Annual and Seasonal Dendroclimatic Reconstruction for the Northwest Plateau, Southwest Colorado, Southwest Mountains, and Northern Mountains, Climatic Regions, A.D. 900–1969, Manuscript on File at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson.Google Scholar
  60. Rose, M. R., Robinson, W. J., and Dean, J. S.: 1982, Dendroclimatic Reconstruction for the Southwestern Colorado Plateau, Manuscript on file at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson.Google Scholar
  61. Rudy, J. R.: 1953, An Archaeological Survey of Western Utah, University of Utah Anthropological Papers No. 12, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  62. Salzer, M. W.: 2000, ‘Temperature variability and the Northern Anasazi: Possible implications for regional abandonment’, Kiva 65, 295–318.Google Scholar
  63. Schubert, S. D., Suarez, M. J., Pegion, P. J., Koster, R. D., and Bacmeister, J. T.: 2004, ‘On the Cause of the 1930s dust bowl’, Science 303, 1855–1859.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Shaw, R. H.: 1988, ‘Climate requirement’, in, Sprague, G. F and Dudley, J. W. (eds.), Corn and Corn Improvement, Agronomy Monograph No. 18, Madison, pp. 609–638.Google Scholar
  65. Stahle, D. W., Cook, E. R., Cleaveland, M. K., Therrell, M. D., Meko, D. M., Grissino-Mayer, H. D., Watson, E., and Luckman, B. H.: 2000, ‘Tree-ring data document 16th century megadrought over North America’, EOS, Transactions American Geophysical Union 81, 121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Stephen, A. M.: 1936, Hopi Journal of Alexander M. Stephen, in Parsons, E. C. (ed.), Columbia University Contribution to Anthropology 23, Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  67. Stevenson, M. C.:1904, The Zuni Indians, their Mythology, Esoteric Fraternities, and Ceremonies, 23rd Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  68. Stewart, G. R.: 1940, ‘Conservation in Pueblo agriculture’, Scientific Monthly 51 329–340.Google Scholar
  69. Stine, S.: 1994, ‘Extreme and persistent drought in California and Patagonia during mediaeval time’, Nature 369, 546–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Stuiver, M., Reimer, P. J., and Braziunas, T. F.: 1998, ‘High-precision radiocarbon age calibration for terrestrial and marine samples’, Radiocarbon 40, 1127–1151.Google Scholar
  71. Titiev, M.: 1944, Old Oraibi, a Study of the Hopi Indians of Third Mesa, Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology 22, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  72. Van West, C. R.: 1994, Modeling Prehistoric Climatic Variability and Agricultural Production in Southwestern Colorado: A GIS Approach, Reports of Investigations 67, Washington State University Department of Anthropology, Pullman, p. 258.Google Scholar
  73. Varien, M. D., Van West, C. R., and Patterson, G. S.: 2000, ‘Competition, cooperation, and conflict: Agricultural production and community catchments in the central Mesa Verde region’, Kiva 66: 45–65.Google Scholar
  74. Western Regional Climate Center, Desert Research Institute: 2004,

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.U.S. Geological SurveyBoulderU.S.A.
  2. 2.University of UtahSalt Lake CityU.S.A.
  3. 3.Navajo Nation Historical PreservationWindow RockU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations