Long Term Patterns of Settlement Movement along the Zuni River Drainage

Matthew Peeples and Gregson Schachner


The Zuni region has frequently been cited as an area of continuous, long-term regional settlement stability when compared to other parts of the Southwest. Most interpretations of the prehistoric sequence in the region (ca. 600-1450+) suggest gradual population growth through time marked by a transition from small, dispersed roomblocks, to small communities, to large aggregated communities, and finally to large nucleated settlements (Kintigh 1996). More recently, however, detailed studies of particular areas within the region have revealed substantial local variation in settlement trends through time. Throughout the prehistoric period, portions of the region saw major depopulations as well as major influxes of population. Beyond this, there is substantial variation in the spatial and social scale of “communities” across the region at any given time (Kintigh et al. 1996; Kintigh et al. 2004; Schachner 2007).

Using a large and detailed database of habitation sites, we attempt to integrate this picture of regional stability and local variation. The data presented here suggest that, although the region was continuously occupied throughout the prehistoric period, there were long-term, patterned changes in the focal areas of settlement along the Zuni River through time. The varying spatial and temporal scales of population movement at the local and regional levels likely represent responses to different types and scales of social and environmental processes. The recognition of these differences has important implications for interpretations of the regional culture history as well as more general implications for the uses of survey data for reconstructing regional scale settlement patterns.

Click maps below to see the full size image.


AD 600-800

AD 800-925

AD 925-1050

AD 1050-1125

AD 1125-1225

AD 1225-1275


Database and Methods

• Analysis includes all available contiguous full coverage survey areas with 500 or more acres of coverage

• Sites include all architectural sites with systematic ceramic collections of at least 20 identifiable decorated sherds

• All large architectural sites (> 50 rooms) with available data from areas outside of full coverage surveys are also included

• Sites were placed into one of six temporal phases of varying length based on the frequencies of tree-ring dated ceramic types following the procedures developed by Kintigh and others (2004)

Key Patterns and Issues

• The distribution of sites through time is extremely patchy. During all temporal phases, there are substantial portions of the study area as a whole with no habitation sites despite full coverage survey.

• There is a gradual, long-term trend in population movement from west to east along the Zuni River until the mid-1300s. This is followed by a rapid shift in population back to the west with the founding of the protohistoric villages (Kintigh 1985).

• Although population movement is gradual when viewed at a regional scale, there are major booms and busts within local areas.

• Full coverage surveys in any particular portion of the region (even very large coverage areas) are not good proxies for long-term patterns in settlement for the region as a whole.

Regional and Local Population Movements through Time

The accompanying maps illustrate the strong trend of population movement upstream along the Zuni River. Although there are drastic and rapid shifts in population within most of the individual survey areas, the regional movement of population is fairly gradual until a rapid shift of population into the El Morro Valley in the mid-1200s. Most of the arguments for rapid local shifts in population and settlement organization have emphasized social factors (Kintigh et al. 1996; Kintigh et al. 2004; Schachner 2007). The gradual nature and large spatial scale of the region-wide shifts in population are less plausibly explained by small scale and short-term social processes, however. It is likely that the regional shift is due, at least in part, to low frequency environmental changes, such as arroyo down-cutting along the Zuni River and other major tributaries (see Balling and Wells 1990).

The maps presented here also demonstrate the importance of considering both local and regional scale population movements simultaneously when discussing social change. For example, the regional level population shift likely set the stage for many of the rapid social changes that occurred at the beginning of the Pueblo IV period (ca 1275-1450). By the 1125-1225 interval, a majority of the regional population was concentrated in the eastern portion of the study area. By the subsequent 1225-1275 interval, there was a major expansion of population in the El Morro Valley. This shift was likely even more abrupt than the maps presented here suggest. Most of the sites in the El Morro Valley that were statistically assigned to the 1125-1225 period were likely first occupied during the later end of this range or during the early part of the 1225-1275 interval. This shift into a previously sparsely occupied area was accompanied by experimentation in architectural form and community organization (Schachner 2007). New community forms including large, nucleated settlements were first constructed in this area before becoming the dominant architectural form during the Pueblo IV period (ca 1275-1450).

The reconstruction and integration of local and regional scale settlement patterns changes in the Zuni region also has methodological implications for similar large scale studies in other areas. As the results presented here suggest, large full coverage surveys in any particular part of the region are poor proxies for regional changes in settlement patterns. A reconstruction of the regional settlement history that relies solely on large, aggregated sites would also provide an incomplete picture of the complexity of changes over time. The long term patterns of population movement identified in this analysis only become visible when multiple, large scale full coverage surveys from throughout the region are combined.

References Cited

Balling, Robert C., Jr., and Stephen G. Wells
1990. Historical Rainfall Patterns and Arroyo Activity within the Zuni River Drainage Basin, New Mexico. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 80(4):603-617.

Kintigh, Keith W.
1985. Settlement, Subsistence, and Society in Late Zuni Prehistory. Anthropological Papers. No. 44. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

1996. The Cibola Region in the Post-Chacoan Era. In The Prehistoric Pueblo World, A.D. 1150-1350, edited by Michael A. Adler, pp. 131-144. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Kintigh, Keith W., Todd L. Howell, Andrew I. Duff
1996 Post-Chacoan Social Integration at the Hinkson Site, New Mexico. Kiva 61(3):257-274.

Kintigh, Keith W., Donna M. Glowacki, and Deborah L. Huntley
2004 Long-Term Settlement History and the Emergence of Towns in the Zuni Area. American Antiquity 69(4):432-456.

Schachner, Gregson T.
2007. Population Circulation and the Transformation of Ancient Cibola Communities. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.