American Anthropologist

Risk and Agricultural Intensification During the Formative Period in the Northern Basin of Mexico



The relationship between the development of hydraulic agriculture and the formation of sociopolitical hierarchies is a major issue in studies of the evolution of early civilizations in the Basin of Mexico and elsewhere. Previous explanations of agricultural intensification have emphasized population pressure and the effects of settlement nucleation and distance to markets. Neither factor, however, adequately explains the shift to hydraulic farming at relatively low population levels in arid and semi-arid environments. This paper attempts to demonstrate that risk of crop failure was significant in promoting land-use intensification and the development of hydraulic agriculture during the Formative period in the northern Basin of Mexico.