Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Dr. Scott Ortman

Second Advisor

Dr. Douglas Bamforth

Third Advisor

Dr. Olivia Miller


The late thirteenth century saw a mega drought that covered the western half of North America. Of the many affected societies, the ancestral Puebloans of the Mesa Verde region are perhaps the most well-known because of their mass migration out of their ancestral home at the end of the century. In this thesis, I analyze the factors that led to this mass migration through data from five separate communities that were affected by these drought conditions. I compare evidence from the pueblos of Sand Canyon, Goodman Point, Woods Canyon, Castle Rock, and, the most recently excavated, Cowboy Wash and find that they exhibit a wide array of reactions to drought. These variable reactions are most likely, at least in part, a result of the variety of drought conditions these communities experienced. While some communities experienced fairly mild drought conditions, others experienced extreme conditions that could not have been weathered through maize based agriculture. While some communities ritually abandoned their villages, others appear to have planned on returning. Other communities seem to have been depopulated after, and perhaps as a result of, warfare. Furthermore, a study into Puebloan philosophy as it relates to the events of the thirteenth century, including drought, warfare, and migration, shows that the events that took place leading to the depopulation of the Mesa Verde region were much more complex than a simple cause-effect relationship. As a result, this thesis argues that by analyzing the effects of climate change on past societies, we may provide a roadmap to possible reactions that future societies may employ in the face of global climate change.