Applying indigenous knowledge to colonial livestock: Isotopic patterns in water and range resources in the desert landscapes of the Pimería Alta

Nicole M. Mathwich, Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman, Alexander Ruff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Ecological aspects of colonialism and the Columbian Exchange impacted societies and landscapes across the Americas. Livestock, in particular, had the capacity to transform local ecology and economies. This article explores colonial resource use related to introduced livestock in the Pimería Alta, the northernmost part of what is today Sonora and southern Arizona. This paper examines oxygen and carbon isotope ratios from archaeological caprine and cattle tooth enamel using bulk and serial sampling. We compare these results to precipitation and local water samples and find evidence that animals consumed evaporated, stored water. These results are consistent with previous research and demonstrate continuity of Native water management practices from prehistoric into colonial periods. Further, carbon isotope ratios among caprines and cattle suggest partitioning of desert grazing by these ungulates. By identifying grazing partitioning and adding data from military forts in addition to mission contexts, we present a broader view of resource use on the colonial landscape and pinpoint which resources were the most heavily exploited for livestock production. These findings contribute to discussions of colonist adaptation and indigenous shifts in labor following the introduction of domesticated livestock in arid regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101919
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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