Skip to main content

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


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


Download references


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.

Availability of data and material

See Supplemental File 1.


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

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jonathan Dombrosky.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Code availability

The R package SIBER is available at, and the corresponding author can provide code upon request.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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

Electronic supplementary material


(XLSX 26 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


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