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UNM Research Examines Fishing in Ancient Agricultural Pueblo Community

Departmental News

Posted:  Mar 13, 2020 - 12:00pm

Jonathan Dombrosky, a PhD candidate and Associate Professor Emily Lena Jones, both from the Department of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico, recently received a National Science Foundation grant for $30,298 to research the impact of a changing environment on the incorporation of new foods into human diets. 

“My dissertation research centers on one broad question: How and why do people who heavily rely on agriculture make decisions about new foods to eat? I specifically focus on fishing here around Albuquerque about 700 to 400 years ago among Ancestral Pueblo farmers. I am particularly interested in how people might have responded to environmental change – wetter conditions in this instance – to include more fish in their diets,” said Dombrosky.

This project helps develop archaeologically visible indicators of when a food type recovered in relatively low abundance might relate to human nutritional demands. In the American Southwest, it has long been assumed that fishes were unimportant in the diet of Ancestral Pueblo groups, he noted. Yet, small numbers of fish remains are consistently recovered from late prehispanic archaeological sites in New Mexico, and they are rare during earlier time periods. 

Dombrosky, under Jones’ supervision, is using theory rooted in behavioral ecology to understand how fishing might have become an optimal food-getting strategy for Ancestral Pueblo farmers. Three lines of evidence will test this question: radiocarbon dates of fish bones, to establish the timing and tempo of fishing; body size estimations of fishes from archaeological sites, to assess whether they were unusually large; and analysis of the stable isotopic composition of fish bones recovered from these sites, to determine if fishes had more variable diets during the late prehispanic period. Read the full article here