Mayans converted wetlands to farmland: Study

Monday, November 8, 2010

LONDON - A new research has found that the ancient Maya civilization coped with tough environmental conditions by developing ingenious methods to grow crops in wetland areas.

“The work shows that this intensive agriculture is more complicated and on a par with these other areas of intellectual development,” Nature quoted Timothy Beach, a physical geographer at Georgetown University, as saying.

The Maya civilization dominated Central America for 1200 years. At their peak around 900 A.D., Maya cities teemed with more than 2,000 people per square mile.

The Maya’s home was a tough environment replete with recurring droughts and rising sea levels, and the land that they farmed was rough, rocky terrain intermixed with vast swamps, or wetlands.

Working in low-lying wetlands, which are difficult to access and navigate, Beach and his team dug trenched some 3 metres deep and 10-20 metres long to study soil and water chemistry.

They performed carbon-isotope analyses on soil layers and studied fossilized plant materials to work out how the land was used.

The soil layers revealed signs of rising water tables and the remnants of flood deposits.

Fossilized plant remains at these sites show that the Maya were growing crops such as avocados, grass species and maize.

Their research suggests that the Maya built canals between wetlands to divert water and create new farmland, said Beach.

He said that surveys carried out using Google Earth and remote sensing techniques suggested that this wetland system was probably around 100 kilometres across.

The findings were presented his findings at the Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in Denver. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

will not be displayed