Researchers, the public, and governing agencies are increasingly concerned about how societies will sustainably manage precious natural resources, such as water, in the face of both increasing demands and climate change. Archaeology can provide insights into how communities confronted similar problems in the past. Under the direction of Dr. Christopher Roos, Michael Aiuvalasit will investigate how prehistoric droughts impacted the long-term sustainability of Ancestral Puebloan communities in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. This study is timely because the American Southwest is experiencing a drought of a magnitude and severity last seen by prehistoric Ancestral Puebloans in the 15th and 16th centuries. By integrating existing archaeological datasets and high resolution paleoclimatic data with new low-impact data recovery techniques at prehistoric water storage features, this study will provide a long-term perspective on how communities adapt to climate change. Science and history curriculum exploring the relationship between water, climate, and culture will be developed for students in descendant Native American communities in the region.
This study will serve as an example for how archaeologists can move beyond making simple causal links between changes in climate and culture by acknowledging the social dynamics that ultimately drive community resilience (or vulnerability) to climate change. The adjacent Jemez and Pajarito Plateaus in the Jemez Mountains provide an ideal context for this investigation. While these regions share similar physical contexts, climate histories, and prehistoric adaptations the cultural histories of these regions diverged during droughts in the 15th and 16th centuries. Large communities of the Pajarito Plateau were abandoned, while those of the Jemez Plateau persisted until the Spanish removed local populations in the 17th century. Drought has often been evoked as a cause for the abandonment of the Pajarito, but little consideration has been given to how this happened, or why communities of the Jemez Plateau persevered through analogous conditions. Water storage features, thought to be reservoirs used to hold domestic water, are found at large village sites in both regions. These features will be directly tested to reconstruct the use-life histories of these features, which will then serve as a proxy for understanding how communities took collective action to solve resource management problems. Using archaeological geology, hydrogeology, and predications derived from economic modeling, the responses to droughts by communities between these regions will be compared. Models of community water budgets and tree-ring based reconstructions of drought periodicities will be compared to when and how these features functioned to establish the contributions these features to overall community water budgets, and whether or not there were differences in communal responses to droughts between these regions. Formal cost-benefit analyses will be used to model whether the payoffs for participating in collective management of water were different before, during, or after droughts. This study has the potential to assess the relationship between climate change, resource management, and community sustainability using similar approaches to those used by social scientists who evaluate the vulnerability of modern communities to climate change.