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Long-term Coupled Socioecological Change in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico


Each generation transforms an inherited social and environmental world and leaves it as a legacy to succeeding generations. Long-term interactions among social and ecological processes give rise to complex dynamics on multiple temporal and spatial scales - cycles of change followed by relative stasis, followed by change. Within the cycles are understandable patterns and irreducible uncertainties; neither stability nor transformation can be taken as the norm. Archaeology is attuned to cycles over the lifespan of a society and, thus, extends scientific observation beyond all social memory. The ancient past might appear irrelevant in light of the globalization and rapid technological changes that characterize todays world. However, the archaeological record is replete with cycles of heightened intersocietal interaction, economic intensification, and large-scale anthropogenic environmental change.

This interdisciplinary collaboration of archaeologists, mathematical modelers, ecologists, and environmental scientists will apply archaeological and ecological analyses, resilience theory, and formal dynamical modeling to identify the key social and ecological variables, and their interconnections, that foster stability and promote transformation in coupled socio-ecological systems. We will examine three domains: the degree and nature of capitalization; the loci and nature of vulnerabilities; and the severity, scale, and nature of transformations. Our focus will be long-term human-environmental interactions in archaeologically documented case studies in the American Southwest (Mimbres, Zuni, Hohokam) and Northern Mexico (La Quemada).

To gain pan-regional perspective, we rely on collaborators to draw upon five additional cultural traditions that illustrate a spectrum of local climatic conditions, organizational complexity, water-control technologies, and other anthropogenic environmental modifications. These cutlural traditions include: Chaco, Mesa Verde, Casas Grandes, Pazcuaro, and Salinas.

Research Team
  • Margaret C. Nelson, Principal Investigator, SHESC
  • Michelle Hegmon, Principal Investigator, SHESC
  • Keith W. Kintigh, Principal Investigator, SHESC
  • Ben A. Nelson, Principal Investigator, SHESC
  • John M. Anderies, Principal Investigator, School of Life Sciences
  • Dave Abbott, SHESC
  • Charles Redman, SHESC
  • Arleyn Simon, SHESC
  • Katherine Spielmann, SHESC
  • Sander van der Leeuw, SHESC
  • Ann Kinzig, School of Life Sciences
  • Peter McCartney, International Insitute for Sustainability
  • Charlene Saltz, International Institute for Sustainability
  • Brenda Shears, International Institue for Sustainabiloty
  • Nikol Grant, Internaitonal Institute for Sustainability
  • Gregson Schachner, graduate student, SHESC
  • Karen Schollmeyer, graduate student, SHESC
  • Scott Ingram, graduate student, SHESC
  • M. Jansson

Sources of Funding
National Science Foundation, Submission Pending

Contact: Margaret Nelson