Prehistoric Chaco Canyon, New Mexico: Residential population implications of limited agricultural and mammal productivity

Publication date: August 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 108

Author(s): Larry V. Benson, Deanna N. Grimstead


The agricultural productivity of Chaco Canyon was insufficient to sustain a population of 2300 residents. Summer flooding restricted farming of the valley floor to <100 acres and if maize was produced within the entire side-valley fan area, only 1150 people could be fed. Even to feed an elite and caretaker population of 300, 26% of the total side-valley area would have to be farmed. A Canyon resident population of 2300 required 83,950 kg protein/yr, equivalent to 349,792 kg of rabbit and/or deer meat. An annual harvest of this scale would rapidly exhaust small and large mammal populations within and surrounding the Canyon. This implies that only a few hundred people resided in the Canyon or that meat and maize was transported to the Canyon from outlying areas.