Iroquois Population History and Settlement Ecology, AD 1500-1700

Open Access
Jones, Eric E.
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 19, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Dean R. Snow, Dissertation Advisor
  • Dean R. Snow, Committee Chair
  • George Robert Milner, Committee Member
  • Kenneth Gale Hirth, Committee Member
  • James William Wood, Committee Member
  • Timothy Michael Murtha Jr., Committee Member
  • settlement abandonment
  • GIS
  • settlement location
  • population
  • Iroquois
  • event history analysis
Anthropological research into the population and settlement of Northern Iroquoian Native American societies has the potential to further our knowledge of cultural development and population change in pre-contact North America, the impacts of European contact on Native American societies, and the development and organization of middle range and swidden agricultural societies. This dissertation is composed of two research components. The first is an examination of Haudenosaunee population trends from AD 1500 to AD 1700. In this research, I map the boundaries of all known Haudenosaunee villages occupied during this period. The combination of settlement size and ratios of site area-per-person generate population estimates for each village. With existing chronological data, I combine these estimates to create population curves for the Haudenosaunee nations. The analysis of associated archaeological and ethnohistoric data provides explanations for the observed trends. The second is an analysis of the natural and sociopolitical factors that influenced Haudenosaunee settlement locations and abandonment. In this research, I analyze the spatial correlation of Haudenosaunee village locations with various natural and sociopolitical landscape features in a geographic information system. When compared to a control group, the deviations of the village locations from the control locations reveal features that attracted settlements. Finally, I employ event history analysis to examine the factors that most strongly influenced the decision to abandon Haudenosaunee villages. The results of the population research reveal significant diversity in trends across the five nations. They also support the proposition that European-introduced diseases did not affect Native American populations in the Northeast and Great Lakes until the mid-seventeenth century and the idea that diseases spread irregularly through regions populated by geographically and socially buffered middle-range societies. There also appear to have been frequent migration events in this region that help to explain highly variable pre-contact population changes, shifts in settlement distribution, and sociopolitical development in the region. The identification of these events may help the development of population curves in other regions. This research also highlights effective methods for using archaeological settlement remains to study population sizes and trends in North America and elsewhere. The settlement ecology research takes a new approach to studying the factors behind Haudenosaunee settlement locations. In the past, research has focused on finding primary factors. This dissertation argues, following recent settlement ecology theory, that settlement distribution and location should be viewed as the result of a complex system of relationships between settlement, subsistence, and sociopolitical organization. The results show that the interaction of agricultural needs, ease of transportation, and sociopolitical factors like political alliances, communication, and warfare significantly influenced Haudenosaunee settlement location choices. Further, population size and agricultural resources were factors in the abandonment rate of villages. These results have interesting implications for our understanding of Haudenosaunee population and culture, the development of Native American societies in the eastern Great Lakes and Northeast, and the swidden agricultural adaptation in temperate climates.