Reviews in Colorado Archaeology, Volume 1 (Article 2): 11-40

Research Article

The Role of Horticulture in the Prehistoric Apishapa Region of Southeastern Colorado

Christian J. Zier (Editor, Southwestern Lore)


At least 40 sites in the Apishapa region of southeastern Colorado and adjacent portions of New Mexico and Oklahoma have produced evidence of prehistoric maize. Firmly dated remains range in age from Late Archaic through Late Prehistoric, with the greatest occurrence between A.D. 550 and 1350. Maize was widespread throughout the region but the remains at individual sites are typically scant. The occurrence of maize increases in frequency over time, a trend that correlates more readily with population increase than climatic variation. The long-standing hunter-gatherer economy of southeastern Colorado persisted into Late Prehistoric times and was supplemented but not replaced by maize horticulture. Over time, pressure on resources resulted in a reduction in mobility and corresponding coalescence of populations into seasonally-occupied sites in canyon areas where resource diversity and availability were greatest. Prolonged drought after A.D. 1000 resulted in abandonment of southeastern Colorado ca. A.D. 1450. A mixed hunter-gatherer and horticultural economy characterized this period, although procurement of wild plant foods and hunting (mostly small mammals) remained prevalent. The failure of maize horticulture to assume a more prominent role in Apishapa subsistence practices may reflect the marginal nature of the semi-arid environment, where even today the growing of food crops is limited both by availability of water and, in some areas, elevation.

Keywords: Apishapa phase; horticulture; maize; mixed economy; population growth

Link to the complete article

Suggested Citation (SAA Style):
Zier, Christian J.
2018    The Role of Horticulture in the Prehistoric Apishipa Region of Southeastern Colorado. Reviews in Colorado Archaeology 1(Article 2):11-40., accessed August 25, 2018.


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