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Resource risk and stability in the zooarchaeological record: the case of Pueblo fishing in the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico

Abstract

Disarticulated fish remains are frequently recovered from late preHispanic and early historic archaeological sites in the Middle Rio Grande basin of central New Mexico, but they are rare during earlier time periods. Increased aquatic habitat quality brought on by wetter climatic conditions may have impacted Ancestral Pueblo foraging goals related to risk minimization, leading to an uptick in fish exploitation. Wetter stream conditions can increase the number of different energy channels that help support fish populations and increase ecological stability, which makes fish less risky to pursue for human foragers. Here, we illustrate how to identify stable ecological communities in the archaeological record using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values of fish bones recovered from archaeological sites in the Middle Rio Grande. We find that energy derived from terrestrial C4 plants—a stabilizing “slow” allochthonous energy source—was important for the Middle Rio Grande aquatic food web during the late preHispanic/early historic period. This result suggests that fish populations were supported by a broader resource base and were thus more stable and less risky to pursue for Ancestral Pueblo people.

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Acknowledgments

Thank you to the following institutions and people for granting access to specimens and providing funding, feedback, or just general help: the Pueblo of Isleta, Emily Lena Jones, Henry Walt, Mike Marshall, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Karen Price, Robin Cordero, New Mexico Historic Sites, Ethan Ortega, Matthew Barbour, the Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB) Division of Fishes, Tom Turner, Adam Barkalow, Rosalee Reese, the UNM Center for Stable Isotopes, Laura Burkemper, Viorel Atudorei, the Friends of Coronado, the whole Newsome Lab, Thatcher Rogers, Alex Kurota, and to the late Kit and Arnold Sargeant. A special thanks as well to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and to Britt Starkovitch and Tiina Manne for editing this special issue and inviting us to the 2019 SAA symposium.

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Funding

The Friends of Coronado Scholarship Award helped provide partial funding for this research.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Dombrosky.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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The R package SIBER is available at https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/SIBER/index.html, and the corresponding author can provide code upon request.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Do good things come in small packages?

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Dombrosky, J., Besser, A.C., Elliott Smith, E.A. et al. Resource risk and stability in the zooarchaeological record: the case of Pueblo fishing in the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 248 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01193-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01193-0

Keywords

  • Risk-sensitive foraging
  • Ecological stability
  • Stable isotope analysis
  • Ancestral Pueblo
  • Desert fishes