US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Quaternary Science Reviews 26 (2007) 336–350


One or more of three intense and persistent droughts impacted some Native American cultures in the early-11th, middle-12th and late- 13th centuries, including the Anasazi, Fremont, Lovelock, and Mississippian (Cahokian) prehistorical cultures. Tree-ring-based reconstructions of precipitation and temperature indicate that warm drought periods occurred between AD 990 and 1060, AD 1135 and 1170, and AD 1276 and 1297. These droughts occurred during minima in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and may have been associated with positive values of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Each of the Native American cultures was supported, to a greater or lesser degree, by precipitation-dependent resources. Both the Four Corners region and Cahokia were sites of intense growth between about AD 1050 and 1130, and by AD 1150, cultures in both regions were undergoing stress. By AD 1300 the Anasazi and Fremont cultures had collapsed and their residual populations had either left their homelands or withered. In the case of Fremont populations, the AD 990–1060 drought may have had the greatest impact. This drought also may have affected the Anasazi, for it was at the end of this drought that some people from Chaco migrated to the San Juan River valley and founded the Salmon Ruin great house. Detailed data do not exist on the number of Lovelock habitation sites or populations over time; however, Lovelock populations appear to have retreated from the western Great Basin to California by AD 1300 or shortly thereafter.