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Matthew Liebmann – “Pueblo People, Franciscan Missions, and the Arrival of the ‘Refuse Wind’: The Archaeology of Native American Depopulation, Reforestation, and the Dawn of the Anthropocene”

Note: This post refers to an event that took place on Jun 20, 2016.

Interior of San Jose de los Jemez Mission Church (image courtesy of Theodore Greer Photography
Interior of San Jose de los Jemez Mission Church (image courtesy of Theodore Greer Photography)

Native American populations were decimated between 1492 and 1900, instigated by the European colonization of the Americas.  But debates surrounding the magnitude, tempo, and ecological effects of this decline constitute some of the most contentious issues in American Indian history. Was this population decline rapid and catastrophic, with effects extensive enough to change even the earth’s atmosphere? Or was depopulation more moderate, with numbers of Native Americans declining slowly after European colonization?  And what were the ecological effects of this depopulation, at local and global scales?

This talk will address these questions by presenting the results of the Jemez FHiRE Project (Fire and Humans in Resilient Ecosystems), a collaboration among researchers from Harvard University, the University of Arizona, Southern Methodist University, and the Pueblo of Jemez.  Through a combination of dendrochronology, LiDAR data, historical records, and archaeological survey in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, the Jemez FHiRE team examined when, where, and how Ancestral Pueblo populations declined following early contacts with Europeans in the sixteenth century.  The results have consequences for our understandings of Pueblo history and archaeology, fire ecology, and contemporary debates regarding the concept of the Anthropocene.