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Birds and prehistoric agriculture: The New Mexican pueblos


Analysis of faunal remains from prehistoric southwestern pueblo sites reveals certain commonly occurring species of mammals and birds, the latter including ducks and geese, hawks and eagles, American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, owls, Horned Lark, Common Raven, and jays. This phenomenon is examined with the analysis of bird bones from four New Mexican pueblos located in north-central and west-central New Mexico. Recovered faunal remains date to specific periods between A.D. 1250 and the present. Over 70 species of birds represent various ecological situations; many of these species presently do not occur near the pueblos and a few occur only in the extreme southeastern portion of the state. Marsh and riparian areas along the river systems and richer grasslands on the floodplains would account for most of these species occurring near the sites prehistorically. However, rather than attribute unusual species to climatic change, trade, or long-distance hunting expeditions by the Indians, an alternative explanation is offered which attributes high species diversity to areas of human disturbance. Disturbed areas such as agricultural fields can increase species diversity in an area and aid in the range extension of many animals. The primary factor in this situation, besides the crops themselves, is believed to be insects, which attract other animals, particularly birds and their predators. In addition, field irrigation systems act to extend riparian growth from the river across the floodplain, creating habitats for these animals. Finally, certain groups of birds and mammals have developed a natural attraction to human settlements and agricultural areas and these include species whose remains commonly occur in prehistoric pueblo sites. The avifauna from these sites also reveals information on the prehistoric use of birds as inferred from bone modification, cut marks, burials, and articulated wings.

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Emslie, S.D. Birds and prehistoric agriculture: The New Mexican pueblos. Hum Ecol 9, 305–329 (1981).

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Key words

  • avifauna
  • pueblos
  • garden hunting
  • prehistoric
  • agriculture