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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. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Analyses of ancient food webs reveal important paleoecological processes and responses to a range of perturbations throughout Earth's history, such as climate change. These responses can inform our forecasts of future biotic responses to similar perturbations. However, previous analyses of ancient food webs rarely accounted for key differences between modern and ancient community data, particularly selective loss of soft-bodied taxa during fossilization. To consider how fossilization impacts inferences of ancient community structure, we (1) analyzed node-level attributes to identify correlations between ecological roles and fossilization potential and (2) applied selective information loss procedures to food web data for extant systems. We found that selective loss of soft-bodied organisms has predictable effects on the trophic structure of “artificially fossilized” food webs because these organisms occupy unique, consistent food web positions. Fossilized food webs misleadingly appear less stable (i.e., more prone to trophic cascades), with less predation and an overrepresentation of generalist consumers. We also found that ecological differences between soft- and hard-bodied taxa—indicated by distinct positions in modern food webs—are recorded in an early Eocene web, but not in Cambrian webs. This suggests that ecological differences between the groups have existed for ≥48 Myr. Our results indicate that accounting for soft-bodied taxa is vital for accurate depictions of ancient food webs. However, the consistency of information loss trends across the analyzed food webs means it is possible to predict how the selective loss of soft-bodied taxa affects food web metrics, which can permit better modeling of ancient communities. 
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