The Navajo depopulation of Dinétah

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9 Scopus citations


The ancestral heartland of the Navajo people (Diné) is Dinétah, an area of northwestern New Mexico centered around the Largo and Gobernador drainages. The date of the Navajo entry into the area remains the subject of debate, but there is abundant evidence of an intensive and extensive Navajo occupation of the area in the 1500s-1700s. There is also ample evidence that the area was depopulated, if not abandoned, by the 1770s. Traditionally, the Navajo "abandonment" of Dinetah as a habitation region in the mid-1700s has been considered a seminal event in Navajo cultural development. Drought and Ute raiding have been invoked as causes for a Navajo migration toward the south and west. In this paper, I suggest that the emigration was a long-term social process that involved many push and pull factors. It began much earlier than previously thought, and the area continued to be used intermittently for many years after it was supposedly abandoned. This reevaluation of the abandonment has important implications for the protohistoric and early historic period archaeology and history of large areas of northern New Mexico and Arizona.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-527
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Anthropological Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008


  • Dendroarchaeology
  • Dinétah
  • Early Navajo
  • Migration
  • Paleoclimate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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