Funded Research Projects

Jonathan Dombrosky,        The University of New Mexico, Anthropology

Why are wild food resources (fish) that are rarely pursued by farmers, later added to seemingly well-established agriculturally-focused foodways? 

My dissertation research focuses on one broad anthropological question: why are wild food resources that are rarely pursued by farmers later added to seemingly well-established agriculturally-focused foodways?  The foodways of agriculturalists are often viewed as “locked in” and resistant to change because the cultigens agriculturalists work so hard to produce become crucial parts of their daily lives. For example, the phrase “Corn is life” is often used to express how fundamental corn was-and still is-in every facet of Puebloan life. However, in some instances agriculturalists do add new foods. It is possible that once overlooked wild food resources themselves can change in such a way as to impact human foraging decisions. The question then becomes how do people negotiate a changing environment within culturally prescribed food requirements?


One context in which inherent wild food resource change may have impacted human foraging decisions is in late pre-Hispanic central New Mexico. Small amounts of disarticulated fish remains-such as catfish, sucker, and gar-are frequently recovered from Pueblo IV (PIV, ca. AD 1300-1600) sites in the Middle Rio Grande (MRG) basin of New Mexico, but they are rare during earlier time periods. Roughly 51% of sites where fish have been reported in the state of New Mexico occur in the MRG hydrological basin, and of these sites 85% were occupied from the PIV period and onward. Increased aquatic habitat quality brought on by the end of more arid climactic conditions could have affected foraging decisions related to fishes. The energy obtained by Ancestral Puebloan fishers could have been maximized because fishes provided more calories due to increased fish body size and fishes could have been more successfully harvested per fishing event-or less risky-because the stability of fish communities was greater.


I will use three lines of evidence to evaluate if PIV MRG fishes were a more attractive source of calories than in the previous Pueblo III (PIII) period. I will 1) radiocarbon date fish remains to establish the timing and tempo of fish exploitation; 2) estimate the body size of PIV MRG fishes and compare them to a modern PIII analog to assess if fishes were larger than usual during the PIV period; and 3) analyze the stable isotopic composition of fish bones recovered from these sites to determine if fishes had more variable diets during the PIV period. If fishes could rely on many different food resources (measurable with stable isotope analysis) then their communities would have been more stable and less risky to pursue by Ancestral Puebloan groups.



Use this link to learn more about Mr. Dombrosky’s research:

Alexis O'Donnell,        The University of New Mexico, Archeology

How does migration impact immigrant and host population health?

My research examines how migration impacts immigrant and host population health through the bioarchaeological study of pre-contact New Mexican communities. While this research will help to frame our understanding of the health impacts of migration on peoples in the past, it may also provide insight into the health of modern migrant and refugee populations.


Individuals to be included in this study inhabited New Mexico between A.D. 100 and 1400. In the northern Southwest, Ancestral Puebloans used mobility as a coping mechanism to deal with factors including disease, violence and warfare, resource depletion and climatic downturn (Glowacki 2015; Kohler et al. 2010; Kuckelman 2010; 2016; Kuckelman et al. 2000; Varien 2010). But whether movement benefited the migrants or had unanticipated impacts on their health and safety is not known. I will use dental morphological characteristics, which include the shapes and number of cusps on teeth, as a proxy for DNA to identify potential immigrants. Dental morphology is non-destructive and is useful for comparing groups separated by space and time. To assess health, I use a variety of skeletal characteristics which have been shown to provide reliable proxies for individual morbidity.


Recently Corey Ragsdale and I published an article in Kiva examining where the Gallina people may have gone after leaving their homes around A.D. 1275/1300. We included Kuaua in this paper, and in some analyses, the skeletal material from Kuaua clusters farther away from other Middle Rio Grande sites than might be expected. To examine this result, I have been collecting data from other sites in New Mexico, including Mimbres sites, Adam’s Ranch and Gallinas Springs. My intentions are to further examine the relationships between Kuaua and some of these other sites in greater detail. I will also assess their stress levels compared to those at other sites.


Use this link to learn more about Ms. O’Donnell’s research: