Modern day Hopi corn appears to be a pretty good indicator of how much corn ancient Pueblo farmers were able to harvest, according to a new paper from researchers at the donor-supported Research Institute at Crow Canyon.
The Research Institute at Crow Canyon is dedicated to the belief that archaeology can address many of the challenges facing society in the twenty-first century. The institute brings together a cross-disciplinary network of scholars—archaeologists, economists, geographers, sociologists, educators, and indigenous culture specialists, among others—to address complex questions through collaboration.
Thanks to the continuing support of Crow Canyon donors and program participants like you, researchers at the Institute can leverage more than three decades of archaeological inquiry—and an extensive database—in support of sustained, cutting-edge research leading to a better understanding of the human past and a clearer vision of society’s path forward.
In the paper, Crow Canyon Research Associate Dr. Kyle Bocinsky and Dr. Mark Varien, executive vice president of the Research Institute at Crow Canyon, compare the experimental corn yields gathered from the Pueblo Farming Project with computational estimates of corn yields from another Institute endeavor, the Village Ecodynamics Project.
The Pueblo Farming Project is a joint research effort between Crow Canyon and the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. Since 2006, Pueblo farmers have visited Crow Canyon in the spring and fall to teach the Center's researchers and educators about traditional farming, food storage, and food preparation techniques. Together, farmers and staff have planted and harvested several experimental gardens to test farming techniques and varieties of seeds used by the Pueblo farmers in their own fields.
The data collected for the PFP—which includes detailed measurements of plants at different stages of growth, daily temperature and precipitation values, crop yields, and preliminary results of corn DNA analysis—helps Crow Canyon researchers and educators, with the help of donors like you, better understand ancient environmental conditions and agricultural productivity and their effects on human settlement patterns.
For the Hopi farmers, the project is helping them pass their knowledge of dryland farming techniques to future generations, as well as helping ensure that the distinctive DNA of Hopi corn is maintained in a time of genetically-modified seeds.
The Village Ecodynamics Project is a multidisciplinary collaboration among researchers at several different institutions to study the interaction between ancestral Pueblo people and their environment over more than a thousand years, beginning in A.D. 600.
According to Bocinsky and Varien's research, the Pueblo Farming Project yields correlated closely with the Village Ecodynamics Project's computer estimates.
“The Pueblo Farming Project is a unique collaboration between the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office and Crow Canyon," said Bocinsky. "Not only are we confirming the viability of growing Hopi varieties of maize in the Mesa Verde region, but we are collecting essential data for calibrating and ground-truthing archaeological models of ancient maize production.”
The corn yield data, when combined with climate modeling, field research, and other factors, can be used to help estimate the number of people who were living in the greater Mesa Verde region at any given time in the past.
The paper, "Comparing Maize Paleoproduction Models with Experimental Data," appears in the latest edition of the Journal of Ethnobiology.