Migration and Change in the Southern Southwest

The centuries between A.D. 1200 and 1540 were a time of great change in the Southwest. Deteriorating environmental conditions on the Colorado Plateau in the late 1200s led people to leave the Four Corners region. This movement of northern peoples into the southern Southwest initiated a series of dramatic changes—in how people lived, where they lived, what they believed, and even their ability to survive. Migrants and local groups had to find ways to live together, or at least co-exist as neighbors. By the time the Spaniards arrived, many transformations had taken place—and, as history shows, many more were imminent.

For more than a decade, Archaeology Southwest has asked, what happened to southwestern peoples just before contact with the Spaniards? Archaeological evidence indicates that, after 1350, populations appear to decline drastically. We know this by studying the number and sizes of sites that date to this time period. Ultimately, many people left the southern Southwest. Those who remained or subsequently entered the region lived very differently.

What brought people together and kept communities going even as population declined? What factors caused the dramatic demographic collapse? Archaeology Southwest believes that the answer to the first question is, in a word, Salado. To learn more about how we think about Salado, click here.

The story of how we came to this view and the places we have investigated to test its validity begins here.

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