Ben Nelson

  • Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability
  • Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Arizona State University
PO Box 872402
Tempe, AZ 85287-2402


Dr. Nelson's research interests center on cycles of social complexity and connectivity among the ancient cultures of northwestern Mexico and the American Southwest (A.D. 200-1540) on the human roles in and responses to the desertification of grasslands in those regions and on relating archaeology to indigenous cultures of the present day. He has worked for such organizations as the American Anthropological Association, the Society for American Archaeology and the National Science Foundation.

He has taught at the University of New Mexico and the State University of New York at Buffalo, and today, currently teaches anthropology at Arizona State University.


archaeology; complex societies; ethnoarchaeology; political economics; land use change; landscape studies; urban social-ecological systems


PhD, Anthropology, Southern Illinois University Carnondale, 1980

MA, Anthropology, Florida State University, 1976

BA, Anthropology, Florida State University, 1971

Journal Articles


Freeman, J., J. M. Anderies, A. Torvinen and B. A. Nelson. 2014. Crop specialization, exchange and robustness in a semi-arid environment. Human Ecology 42(2):297-310. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-013-9638-0. (link)


Elliott, M., C. Fisher, B. A. Nelson, R. Molina-Garza, S. Collins and D. Pearsall. 2010. Climate, agriculture, and cycles of human occupation over the last 4000 years in southern Zacatecas, Mexico. Quaternary Research 74(1):26-35. DOI: 10.1016/j.yqres.2010.04.001.


Anderies, J. M., B. A. Nelson and A. P. Kinzig. 2008. Analyzing the impact of agave cultivation on famine risk in arid pre-Hispanic northern Mexico. Human Ecology 36(3):409-422. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-008-9162-9. (link)

Show More

Book Chapters


Nelson, M. C., M. Hegmon, K. W. Kintigh, A. P. Kinzig, B. A. Nelson, J. M. Anderies, D. A. Abbott, K. A. Spielmann, S. E. Ingram, M. A. Peeples, S. A. Kulow, C. A. Strawhacker and C. A. Meegan. 2012. Long-term vulnerability and resilience: Three examples from archaeological study in the Southwestern U.S. and Northern Mexico. In: Cooper, J. and P. Sheets eds., Learning to Live with Climate Change: Understanding Hazards, Mitigating Impacts, Avoiding Disasters.



Cleland, R. and B. A. Nelson. 2011. Resource depletion and food supply at La Quemada: A zooarchaeological approach Quemada: A zooarchaeological approach. Poster presentation March 31 at the 76th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Sacramento, CA.


Elliott, M., C. Fisher, R. S. Molina-Garza, B. Mata and B. A. Nelson. 2003. An interdisciplinary approach to landscape evolution in the Malpaso Valley, Zacatecas, Mexico. Poster presented April 9-13 at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Milwaukee, WI.


Mata-Gonzales, B., R. Molina-Garza, C. Fisher, M. Elliott and B. A. Nelson. 2002. Evidencia de cambio climatico-ambiental reciente en la Mesa Central, Zacatecas: Geomorfologia, estratigrafia del Cuaternario y Magnetismo de Rocas. Poster presented at the 3rd Annual Union Geofisica Mexicana, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.



Elliott, M., P. Turkon, J. Riel-Salvatore and B. A. Nelson. 2006. Understanding the social organization of maguey processing in the Malpaso Valley, Zacatecas, Mexico, AD 500-900. Presentation April 26-30 at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Fisher, C. T., M. Elliott, H. Pollard and B. A. Nelson. 2006. A comparison of conquest era landscape transformation in the Lake Patzcuaro Basin, Mexico, and the Malpaso Valley, Mexico. Presentation April 26-30 at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Anderies, J. M. and B. A. Nelson. 2005. Agave as infrastructure: Vulnerability and crop diversity in northern Mexico. Invited presentation at December 2005 in Transformation and Stability in Socioecological Systems: Archaeological Perspectives on Resilience Theory, Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C.