US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Histories of Maize, ed. J. E. Staller, R. H. Tykot, & B. F. Benz (Academic Press, 2006).


U.S. government work.


Agricultural productivity estimates suggest that the core area of Chaco Canyon could have sustained only a few hundred individuals. Modern analogues of existing Pueblo populations and their domestic habitations with Chaco structures suggest that Chaco at times had a resident population exceeding 2000 people. These data suggest that maize would have had to be imported to feed permanent residents and those visiting Chaco during ritual–political gatherings and those who participated in the accelerated construction and modification of great houses between AD 1030 and 1130. Comparison of strontium-isotope and trace-element ratios of synthetic soil and natural waters from sites within the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico with isotopic and trace-element ratios of seven archaeological corn cobs found in Pueblo Bonito indicate that some maize was imported from either the Newcomb area or from side-tributary sites west of the Chaco Canyon core. These data support the concept that foodstuffs (maize) from outlier communities were transported to a resource-poor Chaco Canyon. However, proof that importation of maize was the rule and not the exception awaits further study of archaeological cobs from both small-house and great-house contexts.