Environmental History of the Southwest

Study Guide for Exam #2–Prehistoric Environments and Cultures

NOTE: In 2022, this exam will be take-home, open-book, and open-notes. For eight content lectures (Part II had nine lectures, so skip one for this exam), summarize what you think are the main points and why they are important for study of environmental history of the American Southwest. Include representative images in your answer and refer to them specifically in your writing; screen captures would be fine. Each answer should be no more than one page, including the images. This study guide lists content deemed in lecture to be important, concepts to consider covering in your answers.

Pleistocene–Holocene Vegetation and Climate

  1. Relative to modern times, describe the climate for each of the following: Late Pleistocene, Early Holocene, Middle Holocene, and Late Holocene.
  2. How did vegetation of what is now the Sonoran Desert of the American Southwest change from Late Pleistocene to now (migration)?
  3. How did vegetation of Sky Island mountain ecosystems of the American Southwest change from Late Pleistocene to now (migration)?
  4. Describe the use of alluvial stratigraphy in paleo-environmental studies in the Southwest. What time resolution does alluvial stratigraphy have?
  5. Define and describe the use of dendroclimatology in paleo-environmental studies of the Southwest. What time resolution does dendroclimatology have?

Early Humans and Megafauna in the SW

  1. When and where did humans first arrive in North America?
  2. Give arguments for and against the hypotheses that climate change or human overkill caused the extinction of American megafauna at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary.
  3. Give an environmental argument for restoring to the Southwest an animal species that has been extirpated from the wild.

Ancestral Puebloan: Chaco Canyon

  1. Describe the immigration of corn into the Southwest.
  2. Describe sensitivity analysis in environmental science, like what was used to estimate population sizes at Chaco.
  3. Describe woodland resource usage at Chaco, both for structural beams and for firewood.
  4. What environmental changes coincided with the Chaco abandonment?

Ancestral Puebloan: Mesa Verde and Kayenta

  1. How were the farming strategies at Mesa Verde and Kayenta different? Why?
  2. Compare and contrast drought vs. sediment loss as possible environmental factors for Mesa Verde and Kayenta.


  1. Describe types of constructions unique to the Hohokam (e.g., ball courts, irrigation canals, etc.)
  2. Describe farming methods used by the Hohokam.
  3. Describe the environmental zonation concept of the Hohokam.
  4. Describe soil salinization in desert areas.
  5. How is the environmental history of the Hohokam relevant to modern-day Southwesterners?

Mogollon and Sinagua

  1. Discuss some differences (agricultural and subsistence) between the Sinagua and Mogollon.
  2. What does "riparian" mean, and why is it an important environmental concept?
  3. Discuss environmental differences between Northern and Southern Sinagua.
  4. How was the eruption of Sunset Crater dated?
  5. Discuss environmental advantages of living in an ecotone.
  6. Show math on passive solar heating-cooling at Montezuma Castle. Bring numbers.

Transition Period

  1. Describe cultural/geographical traits of Pecos that made it a "crossroads" (gateway) site.
  2. Describe lifeways of the people of Pecos.
  3. Compare and contrast lifeways of Paquimé with other cultural centers of the SW?
  4. How was Paquimé a "crossroads" (gateway) site?

Spanish-Mexican Period

  1. Define underlying principles of paleoenvironmental reconstruction that are held in common by (a) analysis of historical documents and (b) analysis of natural archives.
  2. Know dates of major events of early Spanish contact in the Southwest. Include maps.
  3. What environmental innovations did Europeans bring to the Southwest from the Old World?
  4. What environmental innovations did Europeans learn from Native Americans?


  1. Know the origin and timing of early Athapaskans in the Southwest.
  2. Compare underlying fundamentals of glottochronology versus C14 as dating techniques.
  3. List environmental explanations for the failure of the Bosque Redondo internment.
  4. Discuss the concept of carrying capacity with respect to Navajo sheep grazing. Show units.
  5. Describe notable features of the environmental lifeways of the Apache (i.e., hunting, farming, gathering).

Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA
Comments to Paul Sheppard: sheppard @ ltrr.arizona.edu