Investigating Resilience in Southeast Arizona's Upper Gila River Valley: Prehistoric Settlement Patterns and Material Diversity




Whisenhunt, Mary E.

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This dissertation includes two fundamental research objectives. The first is to empirically describe surface archaeology material patterns in the understudied York-Duncan Valley in order to build an occupational chronology. I also investigate the nature of socio-cultural resilience to environmental shock and corresponding cycles of settlement growth, depopulation, and reorganization in the study area. I test a model of cultural change proposed by Hegmon, Nelson, and colleagues that uses resilience theory to investigate the 12th century Mimbres social reorganization.

Project data is derived from survey in field seasons conducted from 2015 – 2019, supplemented by local knowledge of lost or previously inaccessible sites, local collections, and by analysis of photographs of ceramic vessels and other artifacts removed from study area sites in the 1970s and 1980s. Patterns of settlement and material culture diversity are then compared to those of the Redrock Valley and Mimbres Valley in New Mexico.

The York-Duncan Valley’s settlement patterns are noticeably different than those of the Redrock and Mimbres Valley in some periods, although the study area’s material culture largely coheres with that of the comparative valleys. The York-Duncan Valley appears to have had a very low population in the Mimbres Classic period, suggesting that unlike the Mimbres and Redrock Valleys, high population densities did not play a substantial role in its 12th century reorganization. The study area may have been more severely impacted by drought alone. Alternately, agricultural land disturbance and associated site destruction may account for the smaller than expected Classic presence in the York-Duncan Valley.


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Gila river, Mimbres, Prehistoric, Resilience, Settlement patterns