UMass UMass Anthropologist Helps Develop Computer Models of Ancient Native American Settlements

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts anthropology professor Alan Swedlund is part of a research team developing computer models to study early Native American settlements in the southwestern United States.

A specialist in the demography of early human populations, Swedlund participated in a conference titled "Long-Term Dynamics in Human Populations" at the Santa Fe Institute, in Santa Fe, N.M., Sept.14-17. At the conference, 15 international scholars from various fields including geosciences, anthropology, archaeology, and computer science worked together to develop and test computer models that will aid in the study of the history of population change.

The computer models were adapted from others originally used in economic forecasting and regional planning. The archaeological data used in the computer models came from two regions in the American Southwest?the Long House Valley in northern Arizona, and the area around Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. Both of these areas have a long and well-documented record of Pueblo Indian occupation from the early centuries A.D. to the present, according to Swedlund. Since both experienced widespread depopulation in the 13th century, says.

Swedlund and his research team, which included faculty from the University of Arizona and the Brookings Institution, a private non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C., incorporated data from archaeological excavations, and paleoclimatological and hydrological surveys to recreate models of the Long House Valley region. The team then manipulated these computer models in various ways to test different theories of growth and depopulation of the region over five centuries of occupation. In related studies, a separate team of researchers from Washington State University and the Santa Fe Institute performed similar tests using a different set of models to study the area around Mesa Verde National Park.

"We found that depopulation in our region was not simply the result of the natural resources having become depleted through overpopulation as previously hypothesized. It may also have been due to political and ideological factors," Swedlund says. "This suggests we may have to create new hypotheses which will then need further testing."

The Santa Fe Institute is a private, independent, multidisciplinary research and education center founded in 1984 by a group of scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Based in Santa Fe, it focuses on multidisciplinary collaborations in evolutionary biology, economics, cultural complexity, physics, and other areas of study.