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.

A 2,000-year reconstruction of the rain-fed maize agricultural niche in the US Southwest

R. Kyle Bocinsky and Timothy A. Kohler
Bocinsky, R. Kyle and Kohler, Timothy A. 2014 A 2,000-year reconstruction of the rain-fed maize agricultural niche in the US Southwest. Nature Communications, 5:5618. doi: 10.1038/ncomms6618.

Humans experience, adapt to and influence climate at local scales. Paleoclimate research, however, tends to focus on continental, hemispheric or global scales, making it difficult for archaeologists and paleoecologists to study local effects. Here we introduce a method for high-frequency, local climate-field reconstruction from tree-rings. We reconstruct the rain-fed maize agricultural niche in two regions of the southwestern United States with dense populations of prehispanic farmers. Niche size and stability are highly variable within and between the regions.

Landscape-based Null Models for Archaeological Inference

R. Kyle Bocinsky
Bocinsky, R. Kyle 2014 Landscape-based Null Models for Archaeological Inference. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington

How do we, as humans and as scientists, learn about the world around us? In this dissertation, I explore how models—epistemological tools that connect theory and reality—not only structure scientific inquiry (including the social sciences), but also reflect how humans experience and understand the world. Using this insight enables anthropologists and other social scientists to build more ontologically powerful understandings of human behavior. Here, I focus on how humans experience physical and social landscapes—the environments in which they live and with which they interact.

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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