Environmental History of the Southwest

Study Guide for Exam #2–Prehistoric Environments and Cultures

NOTE: The exam will be made up of multiple-choice, fill-in, true-false, and short-answer questions.

Pleistocene–Holocene Vegetation and Climate

  1. Relative to today, describe the climate for each of the following: Late Pleistocene, Early Holocene, Middle Holocene, and Late Holocene.
  2. How did vegetation of what is now the Sonoran Desert of the American Southwest change from Late Pleistocene to now?
  3. How did vegetation of Sky Island mountain ecosystems of the American Southwest change from Late Pleistocene to now?
  4. Define and describe the use of alluvial stratigraphy in paleo-environmental studies in the Southwest.
  5. Define and describe the use of dendroclimatology in paleo-environmental studies of the Southwest.
  6. Summarize how climate of the SW has changed over the past 10 to 15 thousand years? Consider various temporal scales.

Early Humans and Megafauna in the SW

  1. When and where did humans first arrive in North America?
  2. What are some examples of Pleistocene megafauna?
  3. What happened to the American megafauna at or near the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary?
  4. Give arguments for and against the hypotheses that climate change or human overkill caused the extinction of American megafauna at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary.
  5. Provide an example of a large mammal that survived this time period and give a possible reason for how it survived.
  6. Give an environmental argument for restoring to the Southwest an animal species that has been extirpated from the wild.

Ancestral Puebloan: Chaco

  1. Describe the immigration of corn into the Southwest.
  2. What were the disadvantages and advantages of converting from a nomadic hunting-gathering lifestyle to a sedentary farming lifestyle?
  3. Know the Chaco time line (human chronology) and unique characteristics (e.g., great houses, kivas, etc.).
  4. Describe sensitivity analysis in environmental science.
  5. Describe woodland resource usage at Chaco, both for structural beams and for firewood.
  6. When did the Chacoans leave Chaco Canyon and surroundings?
  7. What environmental changes coincided with the Chaco abandonment?
  8. Are environments naturally stable through time? Can humans alter environments?

Ancestral Puebloan: Mesa Verde and Kayenta

  1. Know the human chronology (time line) for the Mesa Verde and Kayenta Ancestral Puebloans.
  2. How were the farming techniques for these two geographical communities different? Why?
  3. Compare and contrast drought vs. sediment loss as possible environmental factors for Mesa Verde and Kayenta.
  4. Where might they have gone?
  5. Are the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) ancestral to the Navajo?


  1. Know the human chronology for the Hohokam.
  2. Describe types of constructions unique to the Hohokam (e.g., ball courts, irrigation canals, etc.)
  3. Differentiate three farming methods used by the Hohokam.
  4. Describe the environmental zonation concept of the Hohokam.
  5. Describe soil salinization in desert areas.
  6. What might have caused Hohokam to abandon their sites? Discuss arguments for and against the alternative hypotheses.
  7. How is the environmental history of the Hohokam relevant to modern-day Southwesterners?

Mogollon and Sinagua

  1. Know the human chronology for the Mogollon.
  2. Discuss some differences (agricultural and subsistence) between the Sinagua and Mogollon.
  3. What does "riparian" mean, and why is it an important environmental concept?
  4. When did the Mogollon abandon their sites?
  5. Discuss environmental differences between Northern and Southern Sinagua.
  6. How was the eruption of Sunset Crater dated?
  7. How did the Sunset Crater eruption affect the Northern Sinagua living nearby, both in the short term and the long term?
  8. What does "substitution of space for time" mean in paleoenvironmental studies?
  9. Discuss environmental advantages of living in an ecotone.
  10. Show math on passive solar heating-cooling at Montezuma Castle. Bring numbers.

Transition Period

  1. Describe cultural/geographical traits of Pecos that made it a "crossroads" (gateway) site.
  2. Describe the Law of Superposition as a dating tool.
  3. Describe lifeways of the people of Pecos.
  4. Pueblo vs. Basketmaker.
  5. What was the problem with tree-ring dating at Paquimé, and how was it resolved?
  6. Compare and contrast lifeways of Paquimé with other cultural centers of the SW?
  7. How was Paquimé a "crossroads" (gateway) site?

Spanish-Mexican Period

  1. Know about the analysis of historical documents in researching past events.
  2. Define underlying principles of paleoenvironmental reconstruction that are held in common by (a) analysis of historical documents and (b) analysis of natural archives.
  3. Know dates of major events of early Spanish contact in the Southwest.
  4. What broad geographical-environmental differences might have contributed to Europeans effectively dominating Native Americans at their first contact in the New World?
  5. What environmental innovations did Europeans bring to the Southwest from the Old World?
  6. What environmental innovations did Europeans learn from Native Americans?


  1. Know the origin and timing of early Athapaskans in the Southwest.
  2. What are the basics of glottochronology and how has it been applied to these SW cultures?
  3. Compare underlying fundamentals of glottochronology versus C14 as dating techniques.
  4. Are Navajo directly descendant from Ancestral Puebloans? Are Southwestern Apache directly descendant from Mogollon?
  5. List environmental explanations for the failure of the Bosque Redondo internment.
  6. Discuss the concept of carrying capacity with respect to Navajo sheep grazing. Bring units.
  7. Describe notable features of the environmental lifeways of the Apache (i.e., hunting, farming, gathering).
  8. How might Apache farming be a model for late-Archaic adoption of agriculture.
  9. Describe peeled trees and how they have been studied.
  10. Discuss the advantages of minimalist housing used by early Western Apache.

Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA
Comments to Paul Sheppard: sheppard @ ltrr.arizona.edu