New perspectives on settlement patterns: Sedentism and mobility in a social landscape

TitleNew perspectives on settlement patterns: Sedentism and mobility in a social landscape
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsVarien, M
Academic DepartmentAnthropology
UniversityArizona State University

Reconstructing the economic organization of ancient societies and unraveling the development of political complexity requires an understanding of sedentism and mobility. Southwestern archaeology has increasingly focused on sedentism and mobility using a conceptual framework derived from hunter-gatherer research, which emphasizes seasonal movement and the ecological factors that influenced mobility. While producing many valuable studies, this framework is inadequate for a full understanding of population movement. This dissertation addresses this problem by expanding the temporal and spatial scales examined and by viewing mobility as a socially negotiated activity.

Residential mobility in the Mesa Verde region is examined by focusing on two social scales--households and communities--and three analytic scales--sites, localities, and regions. Household residential mobility is evaluated by determining the occupation span of residential sites; occupation span is measured by determining the total accumulation of cooking pot sherds and calibrating an annual accumulation rate per household. Community sedentism within a locality is examined through an analysis of structure and site abandonment, and the length of time that individual communities occupied their locality is measured by determining how continuously timbers were harvested. Finally, community mobility within the region is assessed using tree-ring dates and settlement pattern data. These data on household and community movement are interpreted in social terms by reconstructing the changing social landscape in which mobility occurred. Geographic information systems analysis is used to examine how the rugged terrain of the Mesa Verde region affected population movement and to analyze the catchments surrounding individual communities.

Residential mobility is an essential part of the mode of production whereby individuals, households, and larger factions gained access to land and labor, the two most important resources for agricultural production. Thus, residential movement is an example of human agency, which occurred in the context of a social structure that developed historically. Land tenure, residence rules, and marriage rules are aspects of the structure that are particularly relevant to understanding population movement. This dissertation examines how the structure both enabled and constrained the practice of residential mobility, and how the practice of residential mobility both reproduced and transformed the structure.