Packrat middens: A tool for environmental reconstruction and human adaptation analysis

Polly Ann Sullivan, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Vegetal remains from radiocarbon-dated ancient packrat middens were used to develop an early and middle Holocene paleoclimate sequence from the Mojave Desert. Identified species from both modern and ancient middens were tabulated by elevation range based on modern analogs to estimate the modern equivalent of the elevations of ancient middens. Differences of these reconstructed vegetation elevations relative to modern elevations of vegetation are ordered chronologically, after correction for modern midden data, creating a paleoclimate reconstruction. The reliably-dated history of human occupation at four sites on Fort Irwin in the Mojave desert are compared with the paleoclimate reconstruction for an evaluation of corresponding trends. Relative percentages of dietary resources (large mammals, small mammals, reptiles, and mussels), and artifact categories (projectile points, biface, uniface and millingstone tools) are compared with the paleoclimate record. Corresponding trends indicate a relationship between behavioral adaptation by human occupants and changes in climate.