US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



J Archaeol Method Theory (2011) 18:61–109
DOI 10.1007/s10816-010-9083-y


US government work.


Chemical and nutrient analyses of 471 soil samples from 161 sites within four archaeological regions (Pajarito Plateau/Bandelier, Zuni, Mesa Verde, and the Chaco Halo) were combined with historical climate data in order to evaluate the agricultural productivity of each region. In addition, maize productivity and field-life calculations were performed using organic-nitrogen (N) values from the upper 50 cm of soil in each region and a range (1–3%/year) of N-mineralization rates. The endmember values of this range were assumed representative of dry and wet climate states. With respect to precipitation and heat, the Pajarito Plateau area has excellent agricultural potential; the agricultural potentials of the Zuni and Mesa Verde regions are good; and the agricultural potential of the Chaco Halo is poor. Calculations of N mineralization and field life indicate that Morfield Valley in Mesa Verde should be able to provide 10 bu/ac of maize for decades (without the addition of N) when organic N-mineralization rates exceed 2%. Productivity and field-life potential decrease in the following order: Zuni, Mesa Verde, Bandelier, Chaco Halo. The Chaco Halo is very unproductive; e.g., 10 bushels per acre can be achieved within the Halo only from soils having the highest organic N concentration (third quartile) and which undergo the highest rate (3%) of N mineralization.

An erratum to this article was published in 2011.

Note: 2 supplemental files attached below.

Benson JAMT 2011 Factors Part 2 SUPPL 1.xls (4 kB)
Supplementary Table 1: Chemistry of soils from the western Dolores area (XLS 31 kb)

Benson JAMT 2011 Factors Part 2 SUPPL 2.xls (229 kB)
Supplementary Table 2: Site, location, and chemical and physical data for soil samples from the four archaeological areas. (XLS 229 kb)