Native American depopulation, reforestation, and fire regimes in the Southwest United States, 1492-1900 CE
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Matthew J. Liebmann; Josh Farella; Christopher I. Roos; Adam Stack; Sarah Martini; Thomas W. Swetnam
Publication Year: 2016

Cataloging Information

  • ancestral Puebloans
  • Anthropocene
  • anthropogenic influence
  • archaeology
  • dendrochronology
  • fire regime
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: March 13, 2017
FRAMES Record Number: 21835


Native American populations declined between 1492 and 1900 CE, instigated by the European colonization of the Americas. However, the magnitude, tempo, and ecological effects of this depopulation remain the source of enduring debates. Recently, scholars have linked indigenous demographic decline, Neotropical reforestation, and shifting fire regimes to global changes in climate, atmosphere, and the Early Anthropocene hypothesis. In light of these studies, we assess these processes in conifer-dominated forests of the Southwest United States. We compare light detection and ranging data, archaeology, dendrochronology, and historical records from the Jemez Province of New Mexico to quantify population losses, establish dates of depopulation events, and determine the extent and timing of forest regrowth and fire regimes between 1492 and 1900. We present a new formula for the estimation of Pueblo population based on architectural remains and apply this formula to 18 archaeological sites in the Jemez Province. A dendrochronological study of remnant wood establishes dates of terminal occupation at these sites. By combining our results with historical records, we report a model of pre- and post-Columbian population dynamics in the Jemez Province. Our results indicate that the indigenous population of the Jemez Province declined by 87% following European colonization but that this reduction occurred nearly a century after initial contact. Depopulation also triggered an increase in the frequency of extensive surface fires between 1640 and 1900. Ultimately, this study illustrates the quality of integrated archaeological and paleoecological data needed to assess the links between Native American population decline and ecological change after European contact.

Online Link(s):
Liebmann, Matthew J.; Farella, Joshua; Roos, Christopher I.; Stack, Adam; Martini, Sarah; Swetnam, Thomas W. 2016. Native American depopulation, reforestation, and fire regimes in the Southwest United States, 1492-1900 CE. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113(6):E696-E704.