an NSF supported program

Village Ecodynamics Project


The late A.D. 1200s depopulation of the Mesa Verde region of the American Southwest is one of the great mysteries of American archaeology. Deserted Cliff DwellingsMany mechanisms have been proposed to account for this rapid out-migration of regional populations. Most suggest increasingly severe resource imbalances across a densely populated landscape. Some accepted research, however, shows that potential maize production was sufficient to support the estimated populations of the time. If these populations emigrated due to resource scarcity, then scarcity of other resources must have contributed to decisions to leave. On the other hand, there are hints of important changes in sociopolitical organization just prior to the depopulation.

This famous depopulation is one of the riddles that the Village Project addresses. The project was undertaken to examine the interaction of simulated agrarian households with their natural environment taking in to account the production and consumption of various natural resources essential for everyday life. By evaluating the possibility of crises in factors such as potable water, woody fuels, and protein, this research will help determine whether resource factors were in fact critical in these decisions, or whether social factors may have largely influenced the exodus.

See our Research Plan for other problems we are addressing.

New VEP Publication on Social Networks

Please note that this content is not current. It is being maintained for historical purposes.
VEP research on inferring exchange network shapes and sizes through time from agent-based models, by Stefani Crabtree, has just appeared in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. Exchange practices affect global population size and also the degree of clustering of population on the landscape. Congratulations to Stefani; please see our publications page for more details.

Paleodemographic Reconstruction for VEPII South Published

Please note that this content is not current. It is being maintained for historical purposes.
The Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory has just published a new analysis by Scott Ortman of population levels through time for the Tewa Basin, a significant subset of the northern Rio Grande region of New Mexico. In this paper Ortman contributes both a new method, and an authoritative demographic reconstruction. See our publications page for more detail.

Agent-based Modeling

Since the 1990s there has been a marked increase in interest in computational approaches—including simulation—by social science researchers. This appears to be driven both by a cross-disciplinary interest in the sciences of complexity and the ever-increasing computational capacity at our disposal.

In the past, due to the complexity of the phenomena involved, we have been forced to use simplistic world models. Today we are able to study a world in which most important phenomena emerge from the non-linear interaction of many agents (physical, biological, or social) in systems that are rarely at equilibrium.

This vision promotes a method—agent-based modeling—that provides a computational environment in which the behaviors of such systems can be studied.

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Department of Anthropology, PO Box 644910, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-4910, 509-335-3441, Contact Us