Dry farming El Cajete Pumice: Pueblo farming strategies in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico
Rory Gauthier, Robert Powers, Cynthia Herhahn, Mike Bremer, and Fraser Goff
Often overlooked, El Cajete Pumice greatly influenced the ancestral Pueblo people who populated the southern Jemez region from AD 1200 to AD 1600. The El Cajete eruption, which occurred some 55,000 years ago, is one of the latest in a series of volcanic events beginning some 16 million years ago. El Cajete pyroclastic pumice fall blanketed the south and the southeast side of the Jemez Mountains and, beginning in the 1200s, ancestral Pueblo populations began to settle and farm areas of pumice deposits. Unlike many other contemporary farming strategies, pumice soils were not often subjected to constructed facilities such as terraces, check dams or grid gardens, suggesting that unique properties of the soil made it ideal for agriculture. We postulate that pumice-bearing soils hold more moisture, and pumice on the ground surface will act as mulch, making it ideal for farming by conserving soil moisture. Conserving soil moisture is necessary for farmers in this environment who rely solely upon rainfall to water their crops. For nearly five hundred years, El Cajete “pumice patches” enabled Pueblo farmers to survive on the slopes of the Jemez Mountains.
- Gauthier, Rory; Powers, Robert; Herhahn, Cynthia; Bremer, Mike; Goff, Fraser, 2007, Dry farming El Cajete Pumice: Pueblo farming strategies in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico, in: Geology of the Jemez Region II, Kues, Barry S.; Kelley, Shari A.; Lueth, Virgil W., New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook, 58th Field Conference, pp. 469-474.