Water uncertainty, ritual predictability and agricultural canals at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Vernon L. Scarborough, Samantha G. Fladd, Nicholas P. Dunning, Stephen Plog, Lewis A. Owen, Christopher Carr, Kenneth B. Tankersley, Jon Paul McCool, Adam S. Watson, Elizabeth A. Haussner, Brooke Crowley, Katelyn J. Bishop, David L. Lentz, R. Gwinn Vivian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Pueblo population of Chaco Canyon during the Bonito Phase (AD 800-1130) employed agricultural strategies and water-management systems to enhance food cultivation in this unpredictable environment. Scepticism concerning the timing and effectiveness of this system, however, remains common. Using optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments and LiDAR imaging, the authors located Bonito Phase canal features at the far west end of the canyon. Additional ED-XRF and strontium isotope (87Sr/86Sr) analyses confirm the diversion of waters from multiple sources during Chaco's occupation. The extent of this water-management system raises new questions about social organisation and the role of ritual in facilitating responses to environmental unpredictability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)870-889
Number of pages20
Issue number364
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • 87Sr/86Sr
  • Bonito Phase
  • Chaco Canyon
  • LiDAR
  • OSL dating
  • Water management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • General Arts and Humanities


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