Table of contents
Table of contents
Podcast S1 E3 | 35 min

Prepping for TEOTWAWKI

12 Sep 2018
The world has been ending since the beginning of time. What does it mean to be prepared?

It’s the end of the world as we know it. How do you feel? SAPIENS co-host Jen Shannon follows the trail of some contemporary preppers with the help of anthropologist Chad Huddleston. Then she dives into history with Tim Kohler, an archaeologist and expert on Ancestral Puebloan peoples of the U.S. Southwest.

  • Chad Huddleston is an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at Saint Louis University in Missouri and an instructor at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. He has been studying preppers for about 10 years.
  • Tim Kohler is a professor of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology at Washington State University. He also serves as coordinator for the Village Ecodynamics Project, a multidisciplinary effort to study the connection between Ancestral Puebloan peoples and their environment in the U.S. Southwest.

For more on prepping from SAPIENS, read Huddleston’s article “For Preppers, the Apocalypse Is Just Another Disaster” and a companion article to this podcast.

Matthew Simonson composed our theme song and all the other music in this episode.

Read a transcript of this episode

Jen Shannon: [00:00:00] Hey, listeners, it’s Jen. Here at SAPIENS we’ve been thinking a lot lately about the end of the world. With all the recent talk of zombies … Deadly epidemics. [00:00:10][9.4] 

Background speakers: [00:00:11] Panic grips Hong Kong as a deadly virus sweeps through the city. Disease is expected to spread in the U.S. [00:00:17][5.5] 

Jen Shannon: [00:00:17] And climate change. [00:00:18][0.5] 

Background speakers: [00:00:19] This horrible heat wave is so pervasive it’s surprising scientists. [00:00:22][3.1] 

Background speakers: [00:00:23] The cities lost would include Miami, New Orleans, New York, Stockholm, London. [00:00:26][3.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:00:27] It sometimes feels like the end really is near. We recently sent producer Paul Karolyi to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to learn more. Welcome to the show, Paul. [00:00:39][11.9] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:00:40] Thanks for having me, Jen. [00:00:40][0.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:00:41] So, tell us who you went to see in Colorado Springs. [00:00:43][2.4] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:00:45] Preppers. [00:00:45][0.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:00:47] Preppers? [00:00:47][0.0] 

Pearre Cabell: [00:00:48] You know, the more knowledge you carry in the head, the less you carry in the pack. [00:00:48][0.8] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:00:51] I heard about a group down in the Springs, and I thought, who better to help us understand what this end-of-the-world stuff is all about than the people who are actually getting ready for it? You know? [00:00:59][9.0] 

Pearre Cabell: [00:01:00] This is one of the things that I carry in my get-home bag through town and it’s a gas mask and the reason, a lot of people don’t carry them. And the reason I carry mine is because if I, my biggest goal is to get home to my wife and kids; if I get home to my wife and kids, I’m fine; do I have to go through an area of civil unrest where they’re firing tear gas and that kind of stuff? I need to be able to cover my face, get through, and get home. [00:01:21][20.1] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:01:22] This is Pearre Cabell. Back in 2015, he and his business partner, John Quatkemeyer, opened a small shop inside a strip mall on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. They wanted to serve the prepper community. But, as John says, they didn’t want it to be all doom and gloom, so they called it the Colorado Zombie Outpost. [00:01:39][17.5] 

Pearre Cabell: [00:01:40] It makes prepping so much more fun. I mean, ‘cause otherwise, preparing for disasters is kind of like planning for your own funeral. You know, who wants to do that? [00:01:47][6.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:01:48] I don’t know. This stuff seems pretty morbid to me. What was it like hanging out with them? [00:01:52][3.6] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:01:53] Well, actually it was kind of fun. They have a real can-do attitude about all the little problems that arise in everyday life, like when I first got there, they were talking with a friend and fellow prepper, his name is Dirk Devans, about a concealed-carry class they were putting on that afternoon. Pearre tried to get into the back room of the store to get some supplies. But the door was locked, and it turned out he forgot his key at home. I was thinking they’d have to postpone or frantically call someone to bring the key. But after about 5 minutes of strategizing, Pearre decided on a different course of action. [00:02:29][35.5] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:02:30] Can you describe what we’re looking at right now? [00:02:30][0.2] 

Dirk Devans: [00:02:34] Pearre has scaled the wall. Breached the ceiling and is dropping to the backside of a locked door. The locked door that is keeping us from the coffee and snacks. [00:02:44][10.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:02:46] Wait. He climbed over the wall? [00:02:47][1.4] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:02:48] Yeah! [00:02:48][0.0] 

Dirk Devans: [00:02:49] That was impressive. [00:02:49][0.1] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:02:50] Apparently, the wall was only built up to something called a drop ceiling. So, all he had to do was climb up and push through a square of drywall to get over the door. [00:02:58][8.3] 

Jen Shannon: [00:02:59] Impressive. So maybe it’s not always about the end of the world? [00:03:02][3.0] 

Paul Karolyi: [00:03:03] Yeah, I think the main thing is that sometimes, something as innocuous as forgetting your keys can feel like a disaster. I know I relate to that. But if you’re prepared, it’s not actually that bad. John, Dirk, and Pearre told me about this slogan preppers have: TEOTWAWKI. It stands for The End Of The World As We Know It. And I think what they showed me was that the difference between the end of the world and The End Of The World As You Know It, is you. [00:03:29][25.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:03:32] TEOTWAWKI, The End Of The World As We Know It. This time on SAPIENS, we’re going through the ceiling and over the wall. What happens inside each of us when the end is near? How do our societies change in the face of apocalypse, and what might happen the day after the fall? [00:03:47][15.3] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:03:48] I’m Esteban Gómez. [00:03:48][0.2] 

Chip Colwell: [00:03:49] I’m Chip Colwell. [00:03:49][0.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:03:50] And I’m Jen Shannon. [00:03:50][0.5] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:03:51] We’re the hosts for SAPIENS. [00:03:52][0.8] 

Together: [00:03:53] INTRO [00:04:08][14.7] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:04:11] And it really was just basic information. Do you have a flashlight with batteries? Do you know where that flashlight is if your electric goes out? Do you have some extra canned food in case your electric goes out and you can’t get to the grocery store? Just very basic, basic things. [00:04:23][11.2] 

Jen Shannon: [00:04:23] This is Dr. Chad Huddleston. He’s an adjunct assistant professor at St. Louis University and instructor at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, and one of the world’s foremost experts on preppers. [00:04:34][10.8] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:04:34] That kind of showed me that these are not extremists running around the woods, you know, kind of anti-government militia types that we’ve heard about since the ‘80s. This is a very different thing. [00:04:44][9.7] 

Jen Shannon: [00:04:45] After hearing about Paul’s trip to Colorado Springs, I really wanted to learn more about preppers and what makes them tick. I had heard about them from that National Geographic show a few years ago, Doomsday preppers. It was about civil war, foreign occupation, terrorist attack, doomsday marauders, and total economic collapse. [00:05:01][16.3] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:05:02] That was everyone’s initial introduction to prepping, was this idea of, you know, these kind of extremist people that built bunkers out in the middle of nowhere and have hundreds of thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars of gear and are waiting for, you know, the nuclear apocalypse to come. That kind of thing. [00:05:18][16.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:05:19] And back in 2008, that’s pretty much all Chad knew about preppers, too. [00:05:22][3.2] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:05:23] I was actually driving on the highway back from work and I saw a kind of militarized looking vehicle. And, but it wasn’t, it clearly wasn’t military, so it had a symbol on the side, and I looked it up and then I found this whole world that I had never heard of, of preppers. [00:05:36][13.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:05:37] Chad grew up in an outdoorsy family and he knew how to hunt and fish. So he was personally interested in some of the things these people were talking about. And as he recently recalled in an article for, Chad attended the group’s next public meeting. [00:05:51][13.7] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:05:52] And there was like linoleum tables and lots of tattooed people, lots of mohawks, lots of piercings, some kind of what we call tacticool clothing, that’s tacticool as in tactical but cool: Think camo pants, heavy-duty boots, knee pads. [00:06:09][16.8] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:06:10] But once the meeting got started, it was just like any other kind of organizational meeting. There is, you know, a chairperson that was leading the meeting, and they asked if anybody had any questions before we got started. New people, including myself, introduced ourselves, and then we just kind of talked about events that were, that were coming up. It happened to be toward the end of the year, so there are a lot of events they have or especially around Halloween leading up to Christmas, and then they talked about bugout bags, backpack, or other bag that you have three or five days’ worth of stuff that you might need in case, you know, your house burns down or there’s a tornado or electric goes out, whatever you think you need to survive for that short amount of time. So they’re talking about the different ins and outs of, of bugout bags and so, you know, I thought this is perfect; this is, this is what I came to hear about. [00:06:56][45.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:06:56] It was so different than what he expected. And after a bit more research, he found that no other anthropologist was working with preppers. So he went back to their next meeting and the one after that. They talked about all kinds of prepping: How to put together and use a first-aid kit, how to treat radiation sickness. [00:07:16][19.5] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:07:17] You know, just things like that. But mostly contextualized to the St. Louis area so, you know, tornadoes and storms and some flash flooding are problematic here. There might be a big earthquake at some point, but they don’t talk about that too much. But, you know, so the disaster kind of aspect of it was, you know, what kind of things can happen here. But then it also is like, Do you have batteries in your smoke alarm? Do you have a first aid kit and know how to use it? Just very basic information. And that’s, that’s, I think, that’s the part that really drew me was they were talking about one of the events that they were going to have is going to what was called the disaster fair here in St. Louis where the Red Cross goes out and gets blood, you know, volunteers give blood and that kind of thing. They were doing a table there and they were talking, you know, getting volunteers for the table and talking about, you know, the kind of information they’re going to give. [00:08:03][46.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:08:04] It was basic stuff, even more basic than how to pick a lock or climb through the ceiling. They were talking about things you’d think a parent might teach their kids. [00:08:12][8.2] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:08:13] So that’s when it kind of stuck with me that, OK. Something else is going on here. No one’s doing looking at this, so I guess, I guess I will because it’s my personal and my professional immersion. What can be better than that? [00:08:23][10.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:08:24] Chad immersed himself in the world of preppers. His first stop was joining that very group he encountered on the side of the road. They call themselves the Zombie Squad, and they started up in June of 2003. [00:08:34][10.6] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:08:36] They were a bunch of volunteers for Red Cross. You know, a house burns down, the Red Cross sends out volunteers to help give blankets and food, and, you know, see if everyone’s alright and what their insurance is and kind of help them through that transition. So there, but there are younger people there in their 20s and they noticed that almost all the Red Cross volunteers that they worked with were probably in their 60s or 70s, older people that had free time. So, they wanted to find a way to bring in younger people, so they start having kind of zombie movie nights because they’re also aficionados of horror films and zombie films and zombie films were just big at that time. So they started having film nights and having people bring in canned food that they would then give to the Red Cross and other food shelters to give to whoever needed it. And so then they kind of six, six of them were together doing this and developed this idea like, Oh, maybe we should do something, you know, bring younger people in and do something slightly different? We can do a bunch of different stuff as opposed to being just kind of stuck in this Red Cross model and that was Zombie Squad. [00:09:33][57.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:09:34] So in the beginning, it was movie nights and blood drives with the Red Cross and then over the years they continued to grow. There are now Zombie Squad chapters all over the country. They consult on Hollywood movies, and their Facebook group has more than 26,000 likes. The group also runs a pretty active online forum where you can go and ask questions about self-sufficient living, firearms, and a bunch of other related topics. And that’s just Zombie Squad. [00:10:00][25.9] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:10:01] Zombie Squad is a fairly small group overall in terms of active membership. Prepping in general, I think, has grown because one, people were afraid of things in the world. And two, I think people, enough people, have had experiences with different kinds of small scale or maybe even large scale disasters like Katrina or something like that or Superstorm Sandy to see that, oh, there’s some practical value in knowing a little bit or having a little bit and you know the government, the federal government, has suggested, as has the Red Cross, that people have a three-day go bag. They don’t tend to call it a bugout bag but a three-day bag or a five-day bag. [00:10:39][37.7] 

Jen Shannon: [00:10:39] But even with the fun zombie twist and the increasing frequency of natural disasters, these groups are generally attracting only a certain type of person. [00:10:47][7.7] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:10:48] By far male, by far white, and I would say, probably 25 to 45 and mostly fully employed, well-educated. You know some, some college education or degree and then working in that field. A lot of technology people, you know, computer programmers and web developers, that kind of thing. [00:11:08][20.7] 

Jen Shannon: [00:11:09] Chad says there are social and political reasons for why these groups look so similar. [00:11:13][3.6] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:11:14] Well, in the St. Louis area, which is where I’m based and where I started my research, there’s a very strong history of racial difference. So the city pretty much has split up into different halves, has been well- documented. And, you know, I always think about it as if you see a bunch of white guys in these kind of tactical clothing jump out of an armored van, a young black man for instance or a young black woman is not gonna be like, Hey, that looks cool—I want to go over there. They’re going to run the other way because of the history here. And in other areas, I’ve talked to preppers, Zombie Squad members in Seattle and Las Vegas and other areas, and they kind of said the same thing about other ethnic minorities. [00:11:55][41.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:11:56] At the same time, Zombie Squad and other prepper groups are really careful about keeping political and religious speech out of their activities and meetings. Even though many of them are personally motivated by ideology, they are careful about staying out of political debates. And that’s because, as Chad will tell you, preppers generally care a great deal about giving back. They’re not building bunkers and hoarding food to be lone survivors or to do some kind of power grab. They don’t want to be the lords of some post-apocalyptic wasteland. [00:12:27][30.2] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:12:27] Even though we’re a group and we know each other and, you know, care for each other and socialize and all that, the idea is to stay home, do what you need to do, and then help, help your own community. Help them out. [00:12:38][10.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:12:38] And that’s why Chad uses “we” when he talks about preppers. Ever since that awkward meeting back in 2008, Chad has slowly become more and more prepared. [00:12:48][9.3] 

Chad Huddleston: [00:12:49] In fact, in the last house I lived, you know, and this is just last year, we had a water main break over the winter. And my whole neighborhood went out of water. And my neighbors were coming to my house to ask if they could borrow some water because they knew that I had a basement full of it. So, you know, that kind of, again, you know it’s not, you know, no one had their weapons out and they weren’t kind of patrolling the neighborhood to make sure, you know, we had clean water. But it was just the idea like, Oh, we need some clean water to drink because the roads are bad and we can’t get out of the neighborhood because of the water main break and we also don’t have water. So, you know, How can we, how can we get through the day? [00:13:24][35.3] 

Chip Colwell: [00:13:31] So, Jen, are you prepared for TEOTWAWKI? [00:13:33][1.8] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:13:36] Yeah, how prepped are you for the end of the world? [00:13:37][1.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:13:38] Honestly, probably not very much, but it has made me think about my really, really old first aid kit. [00:13:45][6.8] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:13:45] Time to renew it. [00:13:46][0.7]

Jen Shannon: [00:13:46] Right, exactly. I don’t even know where my flashlight is. That’s something that it really brought to mind. So I think, no, I’m not very prepared, but I’m certainly thinking about it now. [00:13:55][9.5] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:13:56] Same here. I don’t think I have a smoke alarm. [00:13:58][1.5] 

Chip Colwell: [00:14:00] There are those like small things, but this also raises for me the bigger disasters that we all fear are coming, right? I mean everything from hurricanes to climate change and what that means for all of us. [00:14:12][12.2] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:14:13] Yeah. As an archaeologist, I’ve thought about this quite a bit. I worked in Central America, and people always refer to the Maya collapse as a thing, right? [00:14:20][7.7] 

Jen Shannon: [00:14:21] Wait. What’s the collapse? What does that mean? [00:14:23][1.6] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:14:24] What you see in the Maya area is the abandonment of these major city centers, and so if you were to take a look at their ritual, you can kind of interpret that as kind of them preparing for the end of the world. You know they enact these rituals so that the sun could rise every morning, right? So. [00:14:39][14.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:14:39] Weren’t people kind of freaking out about the end of the world because the Mayan calendar was coming to an end? [00:14:44][4.9] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:14:45] Right, that was December 21, 2012, and it was basically a misinterpretation of the, of the calendar itself. [00:14:50][5.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:14:51] So what was really happening there, then? [00:14:52][1.6] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:14:54] That was the end of the Maya calendar round and it kind of reset itself after that. But I can kind of see how some people interpreted that as the Maya knowing that the end of the world was coming. [00:15:02][8.8] 

Chip Colwell: [00:15:03] So do you think they were preppers in some way? [00:15:05][1.8] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:15:06] I’ve never thought of them as preppers per se, but maybe, maybe in some, in some weird definition, some weird way, maybe they are. [00:15:13][7.3] 

Jen Shannon: [00:15:14] Well, I think their calendar certainly spurred on some preppers now. [00:15:18][3.9] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:15:18] Yeah, absolutely. [00:15:19][0.4] 

Chip Colwell: [00:15:19] This is such a cool question, right, because we think of preppers as like this modern-day phenomenon. You know, people in their bunkers preparing for nuclear holocaust or whatever, but actually, maybe throughout time, there have been preppers everywhere. Yeah, I work a lot in the U.S. Southwest and the most iconic site that embodies this question is Mesa Verde. [00:15:40][21.0] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:15:41] Yeah, I could see some parallels between Mesa Verde and the classic Maya area. [00:15:45][4.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:15:46] Really? So you think the people that lived at Mesa Verde were preppers? [00:15:49][3.2] 

Esteban Gómez: [00:15:50] Yeah, maybe. [00:15:50][0.1] 

Chip Colwell: [00:15:50] Well, maybe this is, maybe this is the question, maybe this is something we could pursue in this episode. [00:15:55][4.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:15:56] Oooh, I like where this is going. I’m going to go find out more. [00:15:58][2.3] 

Jan Tankersley: [00:16:12] Now. The scary part, OK? Like I said, this is considered a strenuous tour. If you have a fear of heights, if you got a new knee last week, or you got a new hip the week before, this may not be the tour for you. [00:16:27][14.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:16:27] The Mesa Verde National Park attracts more than half a million visitors to southwestern Colorado each year. They come from all over the world to see the iconic cliff dwellings of the ancestral Puebloan civilization and to take tours with guides like Jan Tankersley. [00:16:42][14.9] 

Jan Tankersley: [00:16:43] Now. There’s where we climb the 32-foot or 10-meter ladder. That is the point of no return. [00:16:52][9.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:16:55] But Mesa Verde is much more than a collection of ruined cliff dwellings. [00:16:58][3.1] 

Tim Kohler: [00:16:59] Mesa Verde is many different things. [00:17:01][1.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:17:01] This is Tim Kohler. He’s a professor of Archeology and Evolutionary Anthropology at Washington State University. [00:17:07][5.8] 

Tim Kohler: [00:17:08] First of all, it is a big Mesa that juts up in southwestern Colorado. Technically, it’s a cuesta because it’s highest on its north side and slopes down on its southern side. And as you go down in elevation, you get into a Pinyon Juniper Woodland, which is probably where the environment that the pre-Hispanic Puebloans favored the most. [00:17:30][21.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:17:31] Mesa Verde is also one of the most significant archaeological sites of the Southwest. People like Tim come to the region every summer. They sift through the remains and unearth new details about, well, all kinds of things. [00:17:43][11.6] 

Tim Kohler: [00:17:43] A lot of what we call the central Mesa Verde area is today still dry farmed by people farming, especially pinto beans, and one little town in southwestern Colorado called Dove Creek prides itself on being the pinto bean capital of the world. [00:18:02][18.5] 

Jen Shannon: [00:18:02] But the real reason they come is because Mesa Verde is, or at least was, one of the greatest archeological mysteries of all time. More than 25,000 people lived at Mesa Verde in the mid-13th century. That’s about as many people as live in the surrounding area today. But the current residents are not their descendants, at least, not all of them. [00:18:29][26.2] 

Jan Tankersley: [00:18:30] Wow, pretty neat, pretty neat. Who were these people that build these amazing places? Does anybody know? [00:18:35][5.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:18:38] Well, I heard that one day in 1888, a couple of cowboys, Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law Charlie Mason, were up on the cuesta running cattle. [00:18:47][8.5] 

Jan Tankersley: [00:18:47] Now, at that time, this was all part of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian reservation. The Wetherill family was friends with the Ute Mountain Utes, so they allowed them up here to run their cattle up here and things like that. And the Wetherills knew about cliff dwellings. Their little brother had already visited Balcony House. So they knew about Balcony House, but when Applewoods brought them to where the sun temple is right now to look across the canyon at Cliff Palace, there was a big snowstorm happening, and they could barely see it through the snow. And they were, like, My gosh, what is that? Oh, my gosh, it looks like a palace! So they asked their Ute guide, Who were these people who built these places? and they were told, The Navajos called them the Anasazi. [00:19:33][45.7] 

Jen Shannon: [00:19:34] Archaeologists had some theories, but they couldn’t say definitely one way or the other who the Anasazi people were or what happened. [00:19:41][6.9] 

Jan Tankersley: [00:19:43] So for over a hundred years, we called these people, this culture, the Anasazi. Then in 1990, Congress passed a piece of legislation called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. NAGPRA is what we say for short. Now, that ordered all federal agencies to return whatever Native American burials, burial goods, or sacred items that they’ve been collected over the years to return those to whatever modern tribe is culturally affiliated with that area. [00:20:15][32.2] 

Jen Shannon: [00:20:16] Enter the Pueblo tribes of what is now New Mexico and Arizona. For generations, they had passed down stories telling of an exodus from Mesa Verde, and they claimed a connection to the people previously known as the Anasazi. [00:20:29][13.5] 

Jan Tankersley: [00:20:29] This opened up a whole new conversation between the Pueblo people and the Park Service and the archaeologist. [00:20:34][4.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:20:35] In the years since, archeologists have observed numerous links between the Pueblo peoples of today and the mid-13th century civilization at Mesa Verde, but still, no one could answer the question of what exactly happened there. That’s why in 2001, Tim Kohler and a group of other archaeologists, geologists, and other -ists formed the Village Ecodynamics Project. They applied a slew of modern techniques including advanced computer modelling to the relationship between the ancestral Puebloans and their environment. [00:21:07][31.0] 

Tim Kohler: [00:21:07] And we attempted to calculate the population as precisely as we could based on the sizes of the archeological sites, the number of dwellings in these sites, when these sites were occupied … [00:21:21][13.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:21:22] They pulled together data about thousands of sites across the Mesa Verde region and thousands more along the Rio Grande River. With all that information, they were able to sketch out something of a story of the civilizations’ rise and fall from just a few hundred families in the Mesa Verde region in the A.D. 600s … [00:21:39][17.4] 

Tim Kohler: [00:21:40] Growing to many times that in the A.D. 800s and then declining for reasons that are under discussion but probably have to do with a climatic downturn, at least in part. Then beginning in the mid-to-late A.D. 1000s, there was a dramatic increase in population, and populations remain very high. Another big change happens around, say, A.D. 1070 or maybe just slightly later in our area, and we begin to see these very large, heavily built, masonry structures that archaeologists call great houses appearing on the landscape, whereas before, we had rather modest structures that housed a few households. Now we’re having these great big structures, very heavily built, would have taken a lot of labor. And the question is, What’s going on with those? Why do they appear? We know that they’re similar to great houses that are down in Chaco National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. But what is it that enables that society to spread up into southwestern Colorado? How did they become so successful? And then we see that, that Chacoan influence declines in the mid-1100s under a long but not very severe drought. And then eventually we see that the entire central Mesa Verde, in fact the whole northern Pueblo area, is depopulated in the late A.D. 1200s. So in 1250 we have tens of thousands of households there, and by 1280-1290, there were no farmers there at all anymore, so that’s a huge change. [00:23:35][115.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:23:36] Collapse, demise, TEOTWAWKI, whatever you want to call it, that’s thousands and thousands of people leaving in the span of just a few decades. [00:23:44][7.7] 

Tim Kohler: [00:23:44] It’s been known for a very long time, essentially since the very late 1920s when tree ring dating was first developed, that there was a major drought from about A.D. 1276 to A.D. 1299. And when that was first noticed, archaeologists said, Well, there it is. We have the answer to our question. Everybody left because it was too dry. These people were farmers; they couldn’t raise their maize anymore, so they either died or they left for various places to the Southeast or maybe Southwest where they could continue their livelihood. Well, that story has certainly a grain of truth to it because there was a big drought beginning in the mid-1270s that lasted almost till 1300. The problem with it as a stand-alone explanation is that what we now are pretty confident of is that most of the people in the northern Southwest had already left by the time the great drought began, so the great drought might have been the so-called straw that broke the camel’s back, but it couldn’t have been sufficient and necessary cause for the depopulation of the entire central Mesa Verde area. [00:25:07][82.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:25:09] Based on the Village Ecodynamics Project’s conclusions, it seems like many ancestral Puebloans were definitely preparing for something, some change in their way of living. [00:25:18][9.4] 

Tim Kohler: [00:25:19] The 1200s, even the early 1200s, were not a very favorable time in southwestern Colorado. There was a long cold spell. We know from high elevation tree rings. It was also quite dry. So basically, the first 20 to 30 years of the 1200s were pretty bad, and, nevertheless, people were streaming into this area. Now that probably caused a lot of strife, and in fact, we see that by the mid-1200s, the big sites are now suddenly withdrawing from the places where they had been located previously and building new walled settlements around places where they could be sure to get water. And these look quite defensive, and if you’re up in Mesa Verde National Park, this is exactly the same time when the famous cliff dwellings are being built. [00:26:18][59.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:26:19] Climate change, population growth, factionalism. These are all things we’re dealing with today. But maybe whether or not the ancestral Puebloans were preppers isn’t really as important as what we can learn from their experiences. [00:26:31][12.9] 

Tim Kohler: [00:26:33] Well, one of the things I’d like to think about Western society is that we have a, we have two huge advantages over the Pueblo peoples of the period from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300. One of those advantages is that we have a very impressive technology that is capable of evolving very rapidly. So, there’s, we have a better chance of being able to find ways, technological ways, out of our problems than smaller-scale, less technologically advanced societies did. I would say, though, that when you say that to archaeologists, archaeologists tend to turn up their nose at that because they recognize that past societies have had technology that from the perspective of people previous to them was impressive, but nevertheless we see many examples of past societies collapsing or at least getting into big trouble and having to change dramatically. [00:27:40][67.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:27:41] So maybe we are simply just not prepared for the end of the world. I mean depending on the threat, maybe that’s not even possible. [00:27:48][6.7] 

Tim Kohler: [00:27:49] On the other hand, we have one other advantage too, and that is we have a cadre of scientists whose essential job is to look forward, to try to see exactly what might happen in the future, given the nature of, given what’s known about atmospheric processes, circulation patterns, and so forth that allow people to build things like global climate models. This gives us some foresight that earlier societies did not have. So we have the possibility of trying to use those tools seriously to look forward to see what’s coming in a way that no society in the past has ever been able to do unless you think that, you know, pig entrails did the same job for you. [00:28:46][56.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:28:47] Through all his work in archaeology and his own life experience, Tim ultimately came to the same conclusion that Chad Huddleston, the Zombie Squad, and many other preppers have come to: The only chance that we have at surviving the end of the world is to go through it together. [00:28:58][11.3] 

Tim Kohler: [00:28:59] People are really reliant on other people, and it’s not just one household, one family against the climate, against the world; in fact, it’s communities working together and societies working together that will make for our persistence or our failure to persist. [00:29:22][22.7] 

Jan Tankersley: [00:29:35] Now, I’m going to tell you a story of the Hopi. Now, all the Pueblos have different, different stories that have much in common but much that’s different. So, one of the Hopi stories, they say that we’re currently living in the fourth world. OK. Now people were living down in the third world and weren’t quite as evolved, you know, there. It was kinda dark, but it was OK. And one day, Masauwu or kind of the creator looked down into the third world and you know what. People had quit helping each other. There was chaos. There was corruption. Some of the mothers and fathers were gambling in the kivas instead of taking care of their children. There was evil in the third world. Well, what to do. Well, he took a closer look and upon looking much, a little closer into the third world, he saw there were still good-hearted people in the third world. So he told the good-hearted people, You must leave the third world and leave the evil behind. But he didn’t tell them where to go or how to get there. So they were having meetings and talking about what does this mean. One man said, I think I heard something up above. Do you think we can go up there? And so they actually found a little bird, they made a little bird from clay and it became alive and it flew up and checked out the fourth world and came back and said, Yes there is a place you could live up there; you could go up there. Well, how are they going to get there? Do you know chipmunks, do you know about chipmunks? Do you know what chipmunks are? You guys all know what chipmunks are? Well, a chipmunk’s the planter. Well, little chipmunk came along with the sunflower seed and he told the people, if you sing, I’m gonna plant this. If you sing and sing and sing and sing your sacred songs, this plant will grow and maybe it’ll grow so tall you can climb up into the, into the next world. So he planted that, and they sang and sang and sang, and the plant grew and grew and grew, and the flower got so big, it fell over before it got to the top. Then they tried a spruce tree; that didn’t work. They tried some other plants; those didn’t work. Finally, they found a hollow reed, and they sang and sang and sang, and it grew and grew and grew and went through and poked the hole through into the fourth world and all the good-hearted people climbed up the hollow reed and emerged through that sipapu into the fourth world. Now spider grandmother was there next to the sipapu waiting for them. And she had a mockingbird by her side. And as each of the goodhearted people emerged into the fourth world from the sipapu, the mockingbird would say, You, you will be Hopi; you’ll speak the Hopi language. You will be Zuni; you’ll speak the Zuni language. You will speak Athabascan; you will be Navajo. You’ll be Jemez; you’ll speak Towa. You’ll speak Tewa. You’ll speak Keresan and that’s how all the different tribes were formed and all of the tribes were told they must migrate to find their center place, their center places where they would live in harmony with nature and with each other and they were all given different directions to migrate and so you see migration as a whole, as a part of the Pueblo tradition, a part of their culture. And so here at Mesa Verde in the year 1276, another great drought began. Can you kind of imagine that possibly the rain priests were right here next door praying and meditating and asking, Will the rains return? When will the rains return? Or is it time to go? Should we stay, should we go? If we go, which direction do we go? Well, that’s what the people of the Mesa Verde did. They migrated south into what is now New Mexico and Arizona. And there they became the Hopi, the Zuni, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Santo Domingo Pueblo, Santa Ana Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo, Zia Pueblo, and the other Pueblos up along the northern Rio Grande, and that’s what happened to the people of the Mesa Verde. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Thank you for coming today. [00:33:44][248.2] 

Chip Colwell: [00:33:48] This episode of SAPIENS was produced by Paul Karolyi, edited by Matthew Simonson, and hosted by Jen Shannon, with help from Esteban Gómez and me, Chip Colwell. SAPIENS producer Arielle Milkman, executive producer Cat Jaffee, and House of Pod intern Lucy Soucek provided additional support. Christine Weeber is our fact-checker. Our cover art was created by David Williams. Matthew Simonson composed and produced the music for this episode. Thanks this time to our guests Chad Huddleston, Tim Kohler, Pearre Cabell (like the Afghan city), John Quatkemeyer, Dirk Devans, and our guide at Mesa Verde National Park, Jan Tankersley. Thanks also to Danilyn Rutherford; Maugha Kenny; and the entire staff, board, and advisory council of the Wenner-Gren Foundation; Amanda Mascarelli, Daniel Salas, Christine Weeber, Aaron Brooks, and everyone at SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library. This is an editorially independent podcast funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and produced by House of Pod. See you next time, fellow sapiens! Unless, you know, I mean, well, anything can happen, right? [00:33:48][0.0] [1877.8]


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