Reviews in Colorado Archaeology, Volume 1 (Article 4): 69-95

Review Article

How Agriculture Took Hold in the Mesa Verde Region: A Review of Recent Research on the Late Basketmaker-Early Pueblo Periods (A.D. 500-920)

Richard H. Wilshusen (Paleocultural Research Group)


Major research projects and significant publications over the last two decades have fundamentally reframed our understanding of the Basketmaker III and Pueblo I periods in the Mesa Verde region. Whereas the last state historic context summaries for these periods, which were published in 1999, focused on the specifics of chronology building, site type definitions, settlement patterning, and other nuts and bolts issues, recent advances in database software and an increasing emphasis on regional research have turned our attention to the larger issues of how agriculture took hold and thereafter transformed the landscape north of the San Juan River. The relatively low populations and small-scale horticultural economies of the Basketmaker II period virtually disappeared between A.D. 500 and 600, to be replaced by a more intensive maize-dependent agricultural economy centered on large communities. The rapid expansion of early Pueblo agricultural settlements across the Mesa Verde region and the subsequent formation of large villages were in part fueled by the accelerating population growth that came with agricultural dependence. In turn, the late ninth-century breakup of these large villages contributed to population migration to the south of the San Juan River and the tenth-century emergence of what ultimately became the Chaco great house system. This review updates the 1999 Basketmaker III and Pueblo I overviews.

Keywords: Basketmaker III; Pueblo I; early villages; Neolithic Agriculture; migration

Link to the complete article


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