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Legacies on the Landscape


This project is a collaborative effort by archaeologists and ecologists to investigate the legacy of prehistoric and modern human land use on the mesas of Agua Fria National Monument north of the Phoenix Basin. This desert grassland and riparian ecosystem has experienced two intense pulses of human use in the past 750 years: a sizeable agricultural occupation in the 1300s and livestock grazing since the mid 1800s. We are working to reconstruct key ecological and archaeological features of the landscape before, during, and after (in the case of the indigenous occupation) these pulses of human land-use. Our overarching questions are:

- How did 14th century economics, politics, and religious practices influence the ways in which people used the Agua Fria landscape?
- Which prehistoric activities left ecological legacies that are detectable on contemporary landscapes?
- Which ecological conditions make an ecosystem more or less prone to long-lasting human-induced disturbance?
- Can we still see effects of an increase in ecological patchiness we would expect in association with the 14th century occupation?
- How do legacies of prehistoric land use persist in the face of intensive grazing?

The goal of the project is to build theory about what types of human disturbances leave legacies over different time scales, and gain insights into the ways that today’s actions can affect future ecological systems.

To begin addressing our research questions project personnel have spent two field seasons collecting a diversity of ecological and archaeological data. These data include the distribution of woody plants, small mammals, herbaceous plants, agaves, rocks, and artifacts at several survey locations. Additionally, the architectural growth of two prehistoric villages has been reconstructed through analyses of the wall alignments and the bonding and abutting patterns at the corners of rooms. Prehistoric agricultural fields have been located and several were selected for additional herbaceous plant surveys, soil analyses, and seed bank studies. At a landscape scale, one study has tracked woody plant expansion utilizing historic aerial photos and another developed a GIS model of potential prehistoric agricultural land. Research is continuing and project members are working on publishing the preliminary results of our research (2005).

The Legacies project has a strong educational component, involving both graduate and undergraduate students in interdisciplinary research in the field and laboratory. Courses taught in 2004 and 2005 have provided hands-on training in archaeological and ecological research and fieldwork that have resulted in several graduate and undergraduate theses and professional papers.

Research Team

  • Katherine Spielmann, Principal Investigator, SHESC
  • John Briggs, Principal Investigator, School of Life Sciences
  • David Abbott, SHESC
  • Marty Andries, SHESC
  • Ben Nelson, SHESC
  • Sharon Hall, School of Life Sciences
  • Michelle Hegmon, SHESC
  • Patricia Fall, Geography
  • Keith Kintigh, SHESC
  • Margaret Nelson, SHESC
  • John Sandor, Iowa State University
  • Connie Stone, Bureau of Land Management
  • Andrew Smith, School of Life Sciences

  • Graduate Students
  • Kari Horn, School of Life Sciences
  • Scott Ingram, SHESC
  • Melissa Kruse, SHESC
  • Chien Lai, School of Life Sciences
  • Cathryn Meegan, SHESC
  • Matt Peeples, SHESC
  • Karen Schollmeyer, SHESC
  • Hoski Schaafsma, School of Life Sciences
  • Jason Sperinck, SHESC

  • Undergraduate Students
  • Katie Johnson
  • Shana Leslie
  • Sarah Mapes
  • Todd Passick
  • Nawa Sugiyama
  • Sarah Ventre
  • Caitlin Wichlacz

Sources of Funding
Bureau of Land Management
International Institute of Sustainability
National Park Service

Publications and Presentations
(In Preparation)
Legacies on the Landscape: Integrating Archaeology and Ecology to Understand Long- Term Human-Ecosystem Interactions. Paper Symposium proposed for the 2006 Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Juan, April 26-30.

Schollmeyer, K, J. Briggs, K. Horn, K. Kintigh, M. Kruse, C. Lai, H. Schaafsma, K. Spielmann, and C. Wichlacz. (2005)
Legacies on the Landscape: Integrating Ecology and Archaeology on the Agua Fria National Monument, Arizona. Poster presented at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Salt Lake City, March 31-April 3. Download pdf

Kruse, Melissa (2005)
Legacies on the Landscape: The Agricultural Landscape of Perry Mesa, Central Arizona. Poster presented at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Salt Lake City, March 31-April 3.

Briggs, J., L. Baldwin, M. Hegmon, K. Horn, J. Kaye, K. Kintigh, M. Kruse, C. Lai, M. Nelson, K. Spielmann, H. Schaafsma, K. Schollmyer, A. Smith, C. Witchlaz (2004)
Legacies on the landscape: Integrating ecology and archaeology to understand long-term human-ecosystem interactions. Poster presented at the 89th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

Contact: Katherine Spielmann