Sunset Crater Archaeology: The History of a Volcanic Landscape – Prehistoric Settlement in the Shadow of the Volcano (AP37)
This volume explores human adaptation to catastrophic events, particularly to volcanic eruptions. Sunset Crater Volcano is located in the pine forests of northern Arizona, approximately 20 km north of the city of Flagstaff. The volcano was long thought to have erupted in A.D. 1064, with the eruption extending for several hundred years. Research presented here, however, suggests that Sunset Crater erupted for only a few years sometime between A.D. 1085 and 1090, when nearby areas were densely populated by small, prehistoric farming groups. Lava and volcanic tephra were deposited over an area of 2,300 square kilometers, dramatically changing the physical landscape and, almost certainly, the ideological world view of the prehistoric inhabitants. The eruption caused large-scale abandonment, creating a conservative estimate of 1,000-2,000 volcano refugees. Conversely, the deposition of a think moisture-retaining cinder mulch, 3-10 cm thick, allowed low elevation areas previously too dry to farm to now be settled.
In this volume, the results of archaeological investigations of 41 prehistoric sites along a 26.7-km-long section of U.S. 89, situated 5-20 km from Sunset Crater, are presented. Despite the stress of the eruption, the prehistoric populations who inhabited this area not only thrived, they prospered, eventually building some of the largest village sites in the northern Southwest. The goal here is to understand the nature of this highly successful adaptation.
Further, the project area crosses what has long been considered a cultural boundary between two groups, the Sinagua to the south and the Cohonina to the north. The distinction between these groups is based largely on the predominance of different ceramic wares, with the Sinagua using Alameda Brown Ware and the Cohonina using San Francisco Mountain Gray Ware. Project research questions involved reconstructing the prehistoric settlement, including examining the questions of cultural affiliation, with the goal of refining current understanding of human response to the Sunset Crater eruption.