Identifying Common Pool Resources in the Archaeological Record: A Case Study of Water Commons from the North American Southwest

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Common Pool Resources (CPRs) were defined by Elinor Ostrom as natural or human-made resources of a size or with inherent characteristics that makes it costly, but not impossible to exclude from use by potential beneficiaries. Researchers who study CPRs largely focus on extant, directly observable systems and not archaeological contexts. In order to expand the pool of case studies of CPRs, I present an archaeological case study of investigating water CPRs by Ancestral Pueblo communities in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico in the North American Southwest. Geoarchaeological and chronological analyses of 15 water reservoir features at 9 Ancestral Pueblo village sites were undertaken. Independent chronologies of water infrastructure serve as proxies for the emergence of social institutions to govern public access and distribution of domestic water. By testing reservoirs across the Jemez and Pajarito Plateaus, two adjoining regions settled by dryland maize agriculturalists between AD 1100 and 1700, I show how long-term archaeological records can be used to examine concepts central to the study of the commons and sustainability, such as institutional governance and inherent tradeoffs at the nexus of mitigating food-water insecurities.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGlobal Perspectives on Long Term Community Resource Management
EditorsLudomir R Lozny, Thomas H McGovern
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-15800-2
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-15799-9
StatePublished - Jun 22 2019

Publication series

NameStudies in Human Ecology and Adaptation
ISSN (Print)1574-0501


  • common pool resources
  • water management
  • ancestral Pueblo
  • archaeology
  • geoarchaeology
  • sustainability


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