New Mexico's American Indian population crashed 100 years after Europeans arrived
In the 1500s, the ponderosa pine forests of Jemez province in New Mexico were home to between 5000 and 8000 people. But after Europeans arrived in the area, the native population plummeted by more than 80%, probably because of a series of devastating epidemics. A new study suggests the crash took place 100 years after the first contact with Europeans. It also suggests that the sudden drop in the local population had dramatic ecological effects, including an increase in forest fires.
The authors of the paper used a "terrific combination" of dendro-ecology—which uses the rings of trees to determine their ages and reconstruct past environments—fire ecology, and LiDAR, a remote sensing technique based on laser light, says Steve Lekson, a Southwestern archaeologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who wasn't involved in the study. “It’s such an amazing approach,” agrees Richard Nevle, an environmental scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who has studied the ecological effects of the American Indian population crash. “No one has really pulled all these different pieces together so well before. It raises the bar.”