Late Prehistoric Subsistence Practices in the Virgin River Drainage


Paiutes, maize, horticulture, archaeology


Although ethnographic descriptions of the Southern Paiute usually portray them as hunter-gathers who only dabbled with farming, historic records demonstrate that Paiutes were growing maize prior to the arrival of the first Spanish explorers. These records further suggest that in the St. George Basin of southwestern Utah, Southern Paiute farming was relatively intensive in the decades before the arrival of Mormon settlers. Numerous Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric archaeological sites have been excavated in the St. George Basin, but subsistence activities at most excavated sites appear to be centered around wild plant gathering and processing. This essay describes excavation of two Protohistoric features near the Santa Clara River that provide evidence for Southern Paiute horticulture, including wheat grains and abundant maize cob and kernel fragments. The evidence for Southern Paiute horticulture in the St. George Basin remains ambiguous, however, with apparent contradictions between the historic record and the bulk of the archaeological evidence. This may be because intensive farming only occurred in limited areas, ad almost none of the archaeological research has been along the river margins.

Original Publication Citation

James R. Allison 1988 Late Prehistoric Subsistence Practices in the Virgin River Drainage. Paper presented at the 21st Great Basin Anthropological Conference, Park City, Utah.

Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date







Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Graduate Student