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Session 3

Approaching Convergence in Archaeological Demography

Organizer: Jeremy Kulisheck, Santa Fe National Forest

Demography is a variable central to the understanding of historical change. In its interaction with environment and economy, population serves as both a limiter and an enabler of historical sociocultural evolution. Southwestern archaeology has internalized its importance, and as a consequence, Southwestern researchers have led the field in exploring aspects of demography and demographic change, in particular the estimation of past population size and population change. The thematic departure for the session is the four basic elements that drive demographic change: birth, death, migration, and identity. Our objectives are threefold: to bring together the variety of demographic approaches that have characterized the exploration of population in the region; to move towards a more synthetic and comprehensive approach to archaeological demography; and to advance towards the integration of demographic variables with other major social forces into the explanation of historical change.


  • Family Composition and Household Structure (Birth)
  • Longevity and Mortality (Death)
  • Migration as a Force for Demographic Change
  • Identity as a Demographic Variable
  • The Integration of Demographic Variables for Understanding Historical Change
  • Demographic Change in the Long-Term History of the Southwest
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    Session Abstracts

    The Magic of Numbers and the Priority of History
    Severin Fowles, Barnard College

    In tallying up the population of a settlement or region, in modeling demographic changes through time, and in casually linking scalar trends to social transformation, does it matter at all how the numbers—that is, how the individuals being modeled—viewed themselves?
    Are six decision-makers always six decision-makers, regardless of whether we are speaking of six men from a single kin group or six unrelated people who speak two different languages, embody three different genders, and were raised in four different communities? The magic of magic numbers lies precisely in their strange tendency to elide such basic questions. In this paper, I do not argue against the logic of scalar determinism per se, so much as I offer a vigorous plea for the priority of history and identity as the empirical ground upon which scalar claims must be built. In the course of making this argument, I review and reinterpret the demographic history of the Coalition period in the northern Rio Grande.

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    Ethnogenesis and Demography in Southwest Vecino Society
    B. Sunday Eiselt, Southern Methodist University, Dallas
    J. Andrew Darling, Gila Indian Indian Community, Sacaton AZ

    Demographic change is characteristic of the Hispanic presence in New Mexico from AD 1540 to the present, and contributed to the emergence of a coherent indigenous cultural pattern in the Northern Rio Grande. In this paper, population movement, identity, and economic growth are related to the archaeological definition of the Vecino cultural pattern beginning in the late 18th century. Historic accounts suggest that Vecino populations nearly doubled every twenty years, rising from 9,742 in 1776 to 61,547 by the 1850s, while Native American populations declined or remained unchanged. Economic incentives, a dynamic land grant base, and ethnic realignment served to enhance the surge in Vecino population beyond what was biologically possible. The robust demographic foundation of postcolonial Hispanic society existing in relative isolation on the Spanish-Mexican and American frontier underscores the deep connections of modern, descendent Vecino communities to their archaeological and ethnogenetic past.

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    Population Growth and Fertility: The Role of Childhood
    Kathryn Kamp, Grinnell College

    A woman's fertility is partially dependent upon decisions about whether and when procreation is desirable and partially upon biological factors beyond the control of an individual or group. While population growth in the pre-Hispanic Southwest is frequently attributed to changes in subsistence strategies, particularly to increased reliance on maize-based agriculture, the portion of population growth that accrues due to increased fertility is a result of an interrelated web of biological and cultural factors only some of which directly relate to subsistence. The details of family dynamics including kinship patterns, age at marriage, the kinds of roles undertaken by children, and the social and environmental stresses to which individuals are subjected may be as important as subsistence strategies. Some of these social factors and their biological correlates can cause rapid changes in fertility rates, while others have much slower consequences. All need to be assessed for their implications for population trajectories.

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    Revisiting the Neolithic Demographic Transition in the North American Southwest
    Timothy A. Kohler and Kelsey M. Reese, Washington State University

    Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel and his colleagues developed the proportion of juveniles in a population as a simple proxy for population growth rates visible in the archaeological record. They used this proxy to define the "Neolithic Demographic Transition" (NDT)—a several-hundred-year period of high population growth that accompanied the development or introduction of domesticated plants and animals in the Near East and Europe. Kohler et al. (2008) employed the proxy on a trial dataset from the US Southwest and found that population growth there accelerated markedly beginning about AD 600, which they considered the onset of the "effective Neolithic." Given the much earlier introduction of maize to the Southwest, this date was surprisingly late. In this paper we greatly expand our sample of populations, which allows us to examine population growth processes by region and to refine the chronology for the southwestern NDT.

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    Why everyone should care about and do population estimates.
    Scott G. Ortman, Santa Fe Institute and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

    Developing models that estimate actual population numbers is an essential part of contemporary archaeology. Whether one's research focuses on adaptation, evolution, environmental change, migration, colonization or ethnogenesis, knowing how many people were involved is a critical component of any coherent and compelling knowledge claim, explanation or historical account. Actual numbers are also essential for comparative archaeological research and for comparisons of archaeological systems with historic or modern human systems. Progress on the most interesting and important problems in contemporary archaeology usually involves work at the regional or societal level, and to do population estimates at this scale archaeologists must infer aspects of the occupational histories of settlements from surface evidence. Yet precious few excavation projects have been designed specifically to help with this task. As a result, it is often quite difficult to calibrate surface evidence with excavation results, and this creates a significant barrier to improvement in archaeological demography, and thus to archaeology overall. In this paper I summarize various paleodemographic projects I have been involved with and lay out the kinds of data we need from future excavation projects if we are to produce better estimates of the population histories of individual settlements.

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    Quantifying Morbidity and Quality of Life in the Prehispanic Southwestern Villages
    Ann L.W. Stodder

    This study explores the lived experience in prehistoric communities through the quantification of ill health and differential health. While mortality and fertility have profound demographic consequences on small populations, the social and economic costs of nonfatal conditions are crucial aspects of quality of life and probably of the duration of a community. As recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), departure from good health in the short or long term comprises a substantial portion of the burden of disease. Disability Weights, one of the metrics developed by the WHO Global Burden of Disease Study, are used here to quantify the burden of injuries and illnesses documented in the skeletal and paleoparasitological records in Southwestern bioarchaeology. Quantification of the burden of nonfatal and chronic conditions including advanced osteoarthritis, nutrient deficiencies, tuberculosis, nonvenereal treponematosis, parasitism, and the sequealae of accidental and intentional traumatic injuries reported in skeletal assemblages from San Cristobal, Arroyo Hondo, Canyon de Chelly, Ridges Basin, and other sites moves beyond the paleopathology prevalence data and offers a more grounded perspective on the quality of life between birth and death in these communities, and perhaps a better understanding of the range of the social and biological forces stimulating small and large scale migrations.

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