Maya
Maya city of Tonina

Were the ancient Maya an agricultural cautionary tale? Maybe not, new study suggests

For years, climate scientists and ecologists have held up the agricultural practices of the ancient Maya as prime examples of what not to do.

“There’s a narrative that depicts the Maya as people who engaged in unchecked agricultural development,” said Andrew Scherer, an anthropologist at Brown University. “The narrative goes: The population grew too large, the agriculture scaled up, and then everything fell apart.”

But a U.S. National Science Foundation-supported study, co-authored by Scherer and others, suggests that narrative doesn’t tell the full story.

Read also: Flavonoids in Propolis may prevent or delay COVID-19 entry into the body

Maya had extensive systems of sophisticated irrigation and terracing

Maya
The researchers surveyed an area in the Western Maya Lowlands.

Using drones and lidar, a remote sensing technology, a team led by Scherer and Charles Golden of Brandeis University surveyed an area in the Western Maya Lowlands situated at today’s border between Mexico and Guatemala.

Scherer’s lidar survey — and later boots-on-the-ground surveying — revealed extensive systems of sophisticated irrigation and terracing in and outside the region’s towns, but no huge population booms to match.

Read also: Bees sting to the pen!s can permanently enlarge it – Study reveals

The findings demonstrate that between A.D. 350 and 900, some Maya kingdoms were living comfortably, with sustainable agricultural systems and no demonstrated food insecurity.

“It’s exciting to talk about the really large populations the Mαya maintained in some places; to survive for so long with such density was a testament to their technological accomplishments,” Scherer said.

“But it’s important to understand that that narrative doesn’t translate across the whole of the Maya region. People weren’t always living cheek to jowl. Some areas that had the potential for agricultural development were never even occupied.”

Maya
Maya city of Tonina | Photo credit: Uncovered History

Read also: The role of the agriculture sector to Ghana’s economy

The findings were published in the journal Remote Sensing.

Scherer said he hopes the study provides a more nuanced view of the ancient Maya – and perhaps even offers inspiration for members of the modern-day agricultural sector who are looking for sustainable ways to grow food for an ever-growing global population.

The Choice Press
thechoicepress.com is an online news portal that seeks to project what the gallant small-scale farmers in Africa are doing. We basically report on everything that has to do with agriculture and agribusiness, especially in Ghana.
%d bloggers like this: