Between A.D. 900 and 1150, more than 200,000 conifer trees were used to build the prehistoric great houses of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, in what is now a treeless landscape. More than one-fifth of these timbers were spruce (Picea) or fir (Abies) that were hand-carried from isolated mountaintops 75-100 km away. Because strontium from local dust, water, and underlying bedrock is incorporated by trees, specific logging sites can be identified by comparing 87Sr/86Sr ratios in construction beams from different ruins and building periods to ratios in living trees from the surrounding mountains. 87Sr/86Sr ratios show that the beams came from both the Chuska and San Mateo (Mount Taylor) mountains, but not from the San Pedro Mountains, which are equally close. Incorporation of logs from two sources in the same room, great house, and year suggest stockpiling and intercommunity collaboration at Chaco Canyon. The use of trees from both the Chuska and San Mateo mountains, but not from the San Pedro Mountains, as early as A.D. 974 suggests that selection of timber sources was driven more by regional socioeconomic ties than by a simple model of resource depletion with distance and time.
Additional Publication Details
Strontium isotopes reveal distant sources of architectural timber in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America