How Climate Change Impacted the Ancestral Pueblo People


| LAST UPDATE 07/14/2022

By Stanley Wickens
Ancestral Pueblo climate change
John Elk III via Getty Images

As most of us know, ancestral Pueblo societies once flourished in the Four Corners region of the Southwest - which today consists of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. But a recent look into their constantly-changing history suggests there may be a few facts we never knew about these societies.

Over the span of eight centuries, just before 1400 CE, these societies would thrive and collapse numerous times - and every time this happened, a significant shift could be seen in their culture. Scientists have repeatedly noticed these changes in the Pueblo people's artifacts, including their pottery and the beautiful stone and earth dwellings they made. These shifts have been almost consistently aligned with periods of major changes in the region's climate. However, after recently conducting further research on the archaeological finds, scientists have uncovered the work Pueblo farmers usually did to survive the severe droughts that would take over the Southwest. They concluded, then, that there must have been more to their region's environmental changes...

Pueblo societies climate change
John Elk III via Getty Images
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Researchers analyzed tree rings that appeared on wood beams to form a timeline of the several changes that Pueblo societies underwent. They found that these civilizations peaked in construction during the best seasons for growing maize. However, scientists noticed that these seasonal conditions did not necessarily have much to do with climate change. Another discovery they made was that, although their period of recovery was usually fairly brief, it slowed down more and more after every collapse. Not only that, but they also came with periods of increasing signs of violence.

Researchers have seen this slowdown in other ancient societies, such as the Neolithic Europeans, whose societal collapses had no connection to climate change. "Those warning signals turn out to be strikingly universal," noted  Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University. "They are based on the fact that slowing down of recovery from small perturbations signals loss of resilience." According to Scheffer and his colleagues, tensions and general unrest in these ancient civilizations could be to blame. In Pueblo societies, in particular, it appears to have happened in 700, 900, and 1140 CE. The ancestral Pueblo people were forced to leave the region permanently after a severe drought and external conflict hit in the late 1200s. But since climate change continues to be a threat to our world today, we certainly hope history isn't bound to repeat itself. Stay tuned.

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