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  1. Persistent differences in wealth and power among prehispanic Pueblo societies are visible from the late AD 800s through the late 1200s, after which large portions of the northern US Southwest were depopulated. In this paper we measure these differences in wealth using Gini coefficients based on house size, and show that high Ginis (large wealth differences) are positively related to persistence in settlements and inversely related to an annual measure of the size of the unoccupied dry-farming niche. We argue that wealth inequality in this record is due first to processes inherent in village life which have internally different distributions of the most productive maize fields, exacerbated by the dynamics of systems of balanced reciprocity; and second to decreasing ability to escape village life owing to shrinking availability of unoccupied places within the maize dry-farming niche as villages get enmeshed in regional systems of tribute or taxation. We embed this analytical reconstruction in the model of an ‘Abrupt imposition of Malthusian equilibrium in a natural-fertility, agrarian society’ proposed by Puleston et al . (Puleston C, Tuljapurkar S, Winterhalder B. 2014 PLoS ONE 9 , e87541 (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087541)), but show that the transition to Malthusian dynamics in this area is not abrupt but extends over centuries This article is part of the theme issue ‘Evolutionary ecology of inequality’. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 14, 2024
  2. Temperature variability likely played an important role in determining the spread and productive potential of North America’s key prehispanic agricultural staple, maize. The United States Southwest (SWUS) also served as the gateway for maize to reach portions of North America to the north and east. Existing temperature reconstructions for the SWUS are typically low in spatial or temporal resolution, shallow in time depth, or subject to unknown degrees of insensitivity to low-frequency variability, hindering accurate determination of temperature’s role in agricultural productivity and variability in distribution and success of prehispanic farmers. Here, we develop a model-based modern analog technique (MAT) approach applied to 29 SWUS fossil pollen sites to reconstruct July temperatures from 3000 BC to AD 2000. Temperatures were generally warmer than or similar to those of the modern (1961–1990) period until the first century AD. Our reconstruction also notes rapid warming beginning in the AD 1800s; modern conditions are unprecedented in at least the last five millennia in the SWUS. Temperature minima were reached around 1800 BC, 1000 BC, AD 400 (the global minimum in this series), the mid-to-late AD 900s, and the AD 1500s. Summer temperatures were generally depressed relative to northern hemisphere norms by a dominance of El Niño-like conditions during much of the second millenium BC and the first millenium AD, but somewhat elevated relative to those same norms in other periods, including from about AD 1300 to the present, due to the dominance of La Niña-like conditions.

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  3. Centeno, Miguel A. ; Callahan, Peter W. ; Larcey, Paul A. ; Patterson, Thayer S. (Ed.)
  4. null (Ed.)
    Climate extremes are thought to have triggered large-scale transformations of various ancient societies, but they rarely seem to be the sole cause. It has been hypothesized that slow internal developments often made societies less resilient over time, setting them up for collapse. Here, we provide quantitative evidence for this idea. We use annual-resolution time series of building activity to demonstrate that repeated dramatic transformations of Pueblo cultures in the pre-Hispanic US Southwest were preceded by signals of critical slowing down, a dynamic hallmark of fragility. Declining stability of the status quo is consistent with archaeological evidence for increasing violence and in some cases, increasing wealth inequality toward the end of these periods. Our work thus supports the view that the cumulative impact of gradual processes may make societies more vulnerable through time, elevating the likelihood that a perturbation will trigger a large-scale transformation that includes radically rejecting the status quo and seeking alternative pathways. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    Growing demand for water resources coupled with climate-driven water scarcity and variability present critical challenges to agriculture in the Western US. Despite extensive resources allocated to downscaling climate projections and advances in understanding past, current, and future climatic conditions, climate information is underutilized in decisions made by agricultural producers. Climate information providers need to understand why this information is underutilized and what would better meet the needs of producers. To better understand how agricultural producers perceive and utilize climate information, we conducted five focus groups with farmers and ranchers across Montana. Focus groups revealed that there are fundamental scalar issues (spatial and temporal) that make climate information challenging for producers to use. While climate information is typically produced at regional, national, or global spatial scales and at a seasonal and mid- to end-of-century temporal scales, producers indicated that decision-making takes place at multiple intermediate and small temporal and spatial scales. In addition, producers described other drivers of decision-making that have little to do with climate information itself, but rather aspects of source credibility, past experience, trust in information, and the politics of climate change. Through engaging directly with end-users, climate information providers can better understand the spatial and temporal scales that align with different types of agricultural producers and decisions, as well as the limitations of information provision given the complexity of the decision context. Increased engagement between climate information providers and end-users can also address the important tradeoffs that exist between scale and uncertainty. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    The northern American Southwest provides one of the most well-documented cases of human population growth and decline in the world. The geographic extent of this decline in North America is unknown owing to the lack of high-resolution palaeodemographic data from regions across and beyond the greater Southwest, where archaeological radiocarbon data are often the only available proxy for investigating these palaeodemographic processes. Radiocarbon time series across and beyond the greater Southwest suggest widespread population collapses from AD 1300 to 1600. However, radiocarbon data have potential biases caused by variable radiocarbon sample preservation, sample collection and the nonlinearity of the radiocarbon calibration curve. In order to be confident in the wider trends seen in radiocarbon time series across and beyond the greater Southwest, here we focus on regions that have multiple palaeodemographic proxies and compare those proxies to radiocarbon time series. We develop a new method for time series analysis and comparison between dendrochronological data and radiocarbon data. Results confirm a multiple proxy decline in human populations across the Upland US Southwest, Central Mesa Verde and Northern Rio Grande from AD 1300 to 1600. These results lend confidence to single proxy radiocarbon-based reconstructions of palaeodemography outside the Southwest that suggest post-AD 1300 population declines in many parts of North America. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Cross-disciplinary approaches to prehistoric demography’. 
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  7. Abstract

    Archaeologists increasingly use large radiocarbon databases to model prehistoric human demography (also termed paleo-demography). Numerous independent projects, funded over the past decade, have assembled such databases from multiple regions of the world. These data provide unprecedented potential for comparative research on human population ecology and the evolution of social-ecological systems across the Earth. However, these databases have been developed using different sample selection criteria, which has resulted in interoperability issues for global-scale, comparative paleo-demographic research and integration with paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental data. We present a synthetic, global-scale archaeological radiocarbon database composed of 180,070 radiocarbon dates that have been cleaned according to a standardized sample selection criteria. This database increases the reusability of archaeological radiocarbon data and streamlines quality control assessments for various types of paleo-demographic research. As part of an assessment of data quality, we conduct two analyses of sampling bias in the global database at multiple scales. This database is ideal for paleo-demographic research focused on dates-as-data, bayesian modeling, or summed probability distribution methodologies.

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  8. Ancient farmers experienced climate change at the local level through variations in the yields of their staple crops. However, archaeologists have had difficulty in determining where, when, and how changes in climate affected ancient farmers. We model how several key transitions in temperature affected the productivity of six grain crops across Eurasia. Cooling events between 3750 and 3000 cal. BP lead humans in parts of the Tibetan Plateau and in Central Asia to diversify their crops. A second event at 2000 cal. BP leads farmers in central China to also diversify their cropping systems and to develop systems that allowed transport of grains from southern to northern China. In other areas where crop returns fared even worse, humans reduced their risk by increasing investment in nomadic pastoralism and developing long-distance networks of trade. By translating changes in climatic variables into factors that mattered to ancient farmers, we situate the adaptive strategies they developed to deal with variance in crop returns in the context of environmental and climatic changes. 
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  9. The application of geochemical sourcing methods to archaeological questions continues to grow, as does the need for innovation in applying these methods. The process of sourcing materials is to rule out potential areas in favor of the most likely origin. It will foreseeably remain true that additional data could reveal other potential sources for an artifact. However, the use of multiple methods to further refine potential sources should not be neglected. In this paper, we use maize niche modeling in tandem with isotopic data to refine possible source regions of archaeological deer from Chaco Canyon, NM, USA (ca. AD 800–1250). Previous research on this prehistoric community demonstrated an extensive non-local procurement system where small mammals were garden-hunted in plots lying > 40 km from the canyon and the procurement of deer from upper elevations at > 90 km. The upper elevation procurement of deer will be tested by adding carbon isotopes and maize niche modeling to previously published strontium and oxygen isotopic data. As browsers with an affinity for maize, deer harvested in low to mid elevations within the maize farming niche should have carbon isotope ratios reflecting C4 plant consumption. Growing degree days in this region place the most salient limits on the elevation of maize production and define the region corresponding to a maize-free diet. Analyses of archaeofaunal deer from Pueblo Bonito indicate that hunting occurred at a higher elevation than the maize farming niche. These results demonstrate the utility of combining geochemical sourcing methods with paleoenvironmental modeling. 
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