Researchers from University of Arizona (UA) found that communities that were more connected with their neighbours had a better chance of being able to successfully manage a crisis than did communities with fewer outside connections.

People know to rely on social networks during times of crisis.

"What we did not know is exactly what happened to the social networks at a regional scale as people began to rely on them, or how people modified and changed their networks in reaction to social and environmental crises," said Lewis Borck from UA's school of anthropology.

For the study, Borck and his team focused specifically on the period of AD 1200-1400 which included the 1276-1299 mega-drought in the region that is now the southwestern United States.

To understand how different communities were interacting with one another during that time, the researchers examined data gathered by US National Science Foundation-funded Southwest Social Networks Project.

The project maintains a database of millions of ceramic and obsidian artifacts.

Borck and his collaborators found that during the 23-year drought, relationships between many groups grew stronger, as people turned to their neighbours for support and resources such as food and information.

"It seemed to be a way to mobilize resources and to increase your variability of resources, by increasing your interaction with more distant people," Borck noted.

In general, the communities with larger social networks had a better chance of being able to withstand the drought without having to migrate, and for a longer period, than the more insular groups.

The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

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