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.

Hear About VEP II in St. Louis!

Please note that this content is not current. It is being maintained for historical purposes.

At the SAA 75th Anniversary Meeting, April 14-18, 2010, we will present a symposium devoted to VEP II on Thursday morning April 15. Papers include:

Mark Varien ~ The Village Ecodynamics Project: Modeling Long-Term Interaction Between Pueblo People and Their Environment in the Northern Southwest

Donna Glowacki, Reed, Bocinsky, Diederichs, Bell ~ Making Sense of the Actual: Settlement Trends in the Southwestern Colorado VEP Study Areas

Kyle Bocinsky, Kemp, Nott ~ Plop! 'Unorthodox' aDNA studies for reconstructing domestication and migration

Ziad Kobti, Cockburn ~ Village Functional Specialization Framework

Stefani Cratree, Ford, Kohler ~ Modeling or Simulation?

Steve Wolverton, Ortman, Nagaoka ~ Assessing VEP Productivity Predictions with Zoo

archaeological Relative Abundance Data in the Mesa Verde Region

Scott Ortman ~ Population history and population movement between the VEP study areas

Sam Duwe ~ Coalescence, Continuity, and Change in the Tewa Basin, New Mexico

Laura DeFrank, Goodale, Arakawa, Connolly, Kohler ~ A Breadcrumb Trail: Using Projectile Point Variation to Address Migration

Ben Bellorado, Anschuetz, Gauthier ~ Plant Seeds and Village Needs: Modeling Village Agriculture in the Central Mesa Verde and Northern Rio Grande Across the Dimensions of Time and Space

Jeremy Kulisheck, Bremer ~ Pueblo Demographic Change in the Northern Rio Grande after A.D. 1450: Implications for the Village World

John Kantner (SAR), Discussant

Tim Kohler (WSU), Discussant


First All-Hands Meeting Held at Crow Canyon

Please note that this content is not current. It is being maintained for historical purposes.

Researchers from as far away as Windsor, Ontario, Pullman, Washington, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and points in-between convened at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado, from June 7-10 2009 to coordinate the next five years of VEP investigations. In addition to presentations on experimental farming, monitoring temperature, assessing soil quality, and experimenting with new approaches to modeling, we discussed the on-going Community Center Survey in Mesa Verde National Park and plans for future survey and collections research in the northern Rio Grande of New Mexico.

Time was also found for field trips to large sites in Montezuma Valley—Yellow Jacket Pueblo and Yucca House—and to Mesa Verde National Monument, where we toured sites in Wetherill Mesa including Mug House and sites in the Badger House Community.

The challenges we face in the next round of research include expanding our calibration dataset (for chronology) for the northern research area in southwestern Colorado, and creating a similar dataset for the northern Rio Grande area; devising new methods for modeling maize production that will accurately reflect the unique cold-air-drainage properties of the Mesa Verde landform and the diversity of water-management techniques in the northern Rio Grande; and modernizing our agent-based modeling approaches to use new platforms, and increase the importance of groups and culture in our modeling.

Meanwhile, the first round of research (VEP I) should culminate in a final report through a major university press next year. Village researchers also contributed heavily to a volume entitled Time of Peril, Time of Change: Explaining Thirteenth Century Pueblo Migrations, expected soon through the University of Arizona Press in their Amerind Seminar series.

In the group photo at Mug House, back row, left: Denton Cockburn (Windsor), Kurt Anschuetz (Rio Grande Foundation), Jim Kleidon (NPS), Ben Bellorado (CCAC), and Mark Varien (CCAC); second row, left: Scott Travis (NPS), Steven LeBlanc (Harvard-Peabody), Emily Long (CCAC), Laura Heath (CCAC), Katy Copeland (CCAC), Samantha Fladd (CCAC), Jeremy Kulisheck (knealing, USFS), Scott Ortman (CCAC), Mike Bremer (USFS), Tim Kohler (WSU), and Charlie Reed (WSU); front row, left: Craig Allen (USGS), Rory Gauthier (NPS), Amy Hoffman (CCAC), April Baisan (CCAC),  Ziad Kobti (Windsor), Fumi Arakawa (CCAC), Brian Kemp (WSU), Kyle Bocinsky (WSU), and Julie Bell (NPS).

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