Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park
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Stop 6
Humans in the Desert

Stone tools called manos and metates were used Stone tools called manos and metates were used to grind corn and mesquite beans into flour.

People and their associated changes to the environment have been here for at least the past 12,000 years.  Initially, the climate was cooler and wetter.  As conditions became warmer and drier, short-term fluctuations in the climate had major effects on all life - plants, animals, and people.  The earliest cultures in this area were present from about 10500 - 6000 B.C. during the Paleoindian period.  People were hunter-gatherers, living solely from wild game and plants.  They traveled extensively to pursue herds of animals such as mammoths, bison, mastodons, and giant ground sloths.

Pottery shards from clay fired pots indicate an increased reliance on agriculture for the early people of this area.. Pottery shards from clay fired pots indicate increased reliance on agriculture for the early people of this area.

During the Archaic period, from 6000 B.C. to 250 A.D., the large animal species, except the modern bison, were gone.  The climate became warmer and drier, and some of the first desert plants appeared.  Grinding stones (manos and metates) became more prominent, indicating an increase in the processing of wild plant seeds and nuts. 

Domesticated plants (corn, beans, and squash) came into use by 3,000 years ago.  By no later than 1,700 years ago, fired clay pots, a technology from Mexico, began to be used, marking the beginning of the Formative period (A.D. 250 - 1450).  The advent of pottery coincided with increasing reliance on agriculture and increasing sedentism and population sizes.

By about 1450 - 1500 A.D., pueblos throughout many areas of the southwest were abandoned, pottery traditions ceased and the number of people dropped significantly. Political strife and environmental degradation are two possible reasons for this abrupt abandonment. What became of the people in southern New Mexico is unclear.

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