Midcontinental Native American population dynamics and late Holocene hydroclimate extremes

Broxton W. Bird, Jeremy J. Wilson, William P. Gilhooly, Byron A. Steinman, Lucas Stamps

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52 Scopus citations


Climate's influence on late Pre-Columbian (pre-1492 CE), maize-dependent Native American populations in the midcontinental United States (US) is poorly understood as regional paleoclimate records are sparse and/or provide conflicting perspectives. Here, we reconstruct regional changes in precipitation source and seasonality and local changes in warm-season duration and rainstorm events related to the Pacific North American pattern (PNA) using a 2100-year-long multi-proxy lake-sediment record from the midcontinental US. Wet midcontinental climate reflecting negative PNA-like conditions occurred during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (950-1250 CE) as Native American populations adopted intensive maize agriculture, facilitating population aggregation and the development of urban centers between 1000-1200 CE. Intensifying midcontinental socio-political instability and warfare between 1250-1350 CE corresponded with drier positive PNA-like conditions, culminating in the staggered abandonment of many major Native American river valley settlements and large urban centers between 1350-1450 CE during an especially severe warm-season drought. We hypothesize that this sustained drought interval rendered it difficult to support dense populations and large urban centers in the midcontinental US by destabilizing regional agricultural systems, thereby contributing to the host of socio-political factors that led to population reorganization and migration in the midcontinent and neighboring regions shortly before European contact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number41628
JournalScientific reports
StatePublished - Jan 31 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by funding from an Indiana University Collaborative Research Grant from IUPUI and a Research Support Funds Grant from Indiana University. G. William Monaghan, Gabriel Filippelli, John Southon, Christopher Lapish, Thomas Lowell and Malkah Bird are recognized for their support and contributions to this work. We also thank editor Karl Kreutz and two anonymous reviewers for strengthening this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).


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