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Megadrought and CollapseFrom Early Agriculture to Angkor$
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Harvey Weiss

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199329199

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199329199.001.0001

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Thirteenth Century AD

Thirteenth Century AD

Implications of Seasonal and Annual Moisture Reconstructions for Mesa Verde, Colorado

(p.247) Chapter 8 Thirteenth Century AD
Megadrought and Collapse

David W. Stahle

Dorian J. Burnette

Daniel Griffin

Edward R. Cook

Oxford University Press

The hypothesis that a prolonged drought across southwestern North America in the late thirteenth century contributed to the abandonment of the region by Ancestral Pueblo populations, ultimately including the depopulation of the Mesa Verde region, continues to be a focus of archaeological research in the Pueblo region. We address the hypothesis through the re-measurement of tree-ring specimens from living trees and archaeological wood at Mesa Verde, Colorado, to derive chronologies of earlywood, latewood, and total ring width. The three chronology types all date from AD 480 to 2008 and were used to separately reconstruct cool and early warm season effective moisture and total water-year precipitation for Chapin Mesa near many of the major prehistoric archaeological sites. The new reconstructions indicate three simultaneous cool and early growing season droughts during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that may have contributed to the environmental and social factors behind Ancestral Pueblo migrations over this sector of the Colorado Plateau. These sustained inter-seasonal droughts included the “Great Drought” of the late-thirteenth century, which is estimated to have been one of the most severe regimes of cool and early summer drought in the last 1,500-years and coincided with the end of Puebloan occupations at Mesa Verde. The elevation of the 30 cm isohyet of water-year precipitation reconstructed for southwestern Colorado from the new ring-width data is mapped from AD 1276–1280 and identifies areas where dry-land cultivation of maize may not have been practical during the driest years of the Great Drought. There is no doubt about the exact dating of the tree-ring chronologies, but the low sample size of dated specimens from Mesa Verde during the late-thirteenth and fourteenth centuries contributes uncertainty to these environmental reconstructions at the time of abandonment.

Keywords:   Ancestral Pueblo Collapse, dendrochronology, tree-ring, Mesa Verde, Colorado, Great Drought, 13th century ad North America

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