Fire, vegetation, and Ancestral Puebloans: A sediment record from Prater Canyon in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA

Erin M. Herring, Scott R Anderson, George L. San Miguel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Continuous sediment, charcoal, and pollen records were developed from a ~7-m sediment core from Prater Canyon in Mesa Verde National Park (MEVE), Colorado, USA. Sediment input into the canyon is episodic and is linked to precipitation runoff and vegetation cover. Pollen recovered from the Prater Canyon sediment core reflect the vegetation changes within the MEVE region. During the period recorded, the vegetation of the region surrounding Prater Canyon transitioned from xeric adapted species in an open environment to a more mesic, Pinus edulis-Juniperus osteosperma (piñon-juniper) woodland over the last 1500 years. Two distinct changes in fire frequency occurred. Before 4080 cal. yr BP, fires occurred at a much more frequent rate (2.5-12 fires/200 years) than from 4060 cal. yr BP to present (0-2 fires/200 years). Most importantly, the variations occurring in the charcoal record for the past 2500 years coincide with both shifts in human occupation and climate fluctuations within the region, with burning increasing during Ancestral Puebloan occupation and moist but increasingly dry conditions, and declines in both at the end of the 'Medieval Climate Anomaly' (MCA). The record from Prater Canyon demonstrates the importance of the Ancestral Puebloans in landscape modification during their occupation from ad1 to 1300. Charcoal deposition also increased during the 20th- to 21st-century transition with the highest deposition rates of the core recorded then.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)853-863
Number of pages11
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2014



  • Ancestral Puebloans
  • climate
  • fire
  • Holocene
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • pollen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Palaeontology
  • Archaeology

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