The 5.1 ka Aridization Event, Expansion of Piñon-Juniper Woodlands, and the Introduction of Maize (Zea mays) in the American Southwest
Brandon L. Drake, W. H. Wills, Erik B. Erhardt
Published online before print July 9, 2012, doi: 10.1177/0959683612449758
Lee Drake (UNM Anthropology) exemplifies excellence and I will make every opportunity to work with him again.
Pollen analysis is frequently used to build climate and environmental histories. A distinct Holocene pollen series exists for Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. This study reports linear modeling and hypothesis testing of long distance dispersal pollen from radiocarbon-dated packrat middens which reveal strong relationships between piñon pine (Pinus edulis) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). Ponderosa pollen dominates midden pollen assemblages during the early Holocene, while a rapid shift to a much higher proportion of piñon to ponderosa pine pollen between 5,440 and 5,100 BP points to an aridization episode. This shift is associated with higher δ18O values in Southwest speleothem records relative to the preceding millenium. The period of aridization is followed by a sharp increase in El Niño/Southern Oscillation events that would have caused highly variable precipitation and lasted until 4,200 BP. Bayesian changepoint analysis suggests that this aridization episode led to stable ecotonal boundaries for at least 3,000 years. The piñon/ponderosa transition may have been caused by punctuated multi-year droughts, analogous to those in the 20th century. The earliest documented instance of Zea mays cultivation on the Colorado Plateau is around ca. 4,290 BP. The introduction of this laborintensive cultigen from Mesoamerica may have been facilitated by changes in the regional ecosystems, specifically by an increase in piñon trees, that promoted increasing human territoriality. Linear modeling and hypothesis testing can complement traditional palynological techniques by adding greater resolution in vegetation patterning to climate/environmental histories.