WSU Anthropologist to Study Early Small-Scale Farming Societies and Environment

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University anthropologist Timothy Kohler is the senior principal investigator for a new $920,000 National Science Foundation grant to investigate the long-term interaction of humans, their cultures and environment in southwestern Colorado from 600-1300 A.D.

The research will contribute to understanding changing land-use strategies in small-scale farming societies experiencing significant climate change and population growth. Funded by a new initiative at NSF to study the coupled dynamics of human societies and their ecosystems, Kohler’s study addresses several long-standing issues in the archaeology of the Mesa Verde region.

One famous problem to be investigated is why the farmers who lived in this area for hundreds of years left it entirely shortly before 1300A.D., not to return. Other problems of interest include why most people lived in large villages in some periods, but in small hamlets in other times. One of the tools for this research is an innovative computer-based system that allows the research team to simulate the movements and other behaviors of thousands of households simultaneously.

Besides Kohler and WSU anthropologist William D. Lipe, the research team includes archaeologists from Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Colorado, computer scientists from Wayne State University, and hydrologists from Argonne National Laboratory. One of the products of the research will be a detailed model of the surface water and ground water in the region that will be useful in predicting water availability under various possible climates in the future.

Kohler is editor of the journal American Antiquity, a former Fulbright Chair in North American Studies at the University of Calgary and an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. He has conducted archaeological fieldwork in Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, and Colorado.