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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract - PEDOLOGY

The Maya Footprint: Soil Resources of Chunchucmil, Yucatán, Mexico


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 73 No. 4, p. 1209-1220
    Received: Aug 12, 2008

    * Corresponding author(s): richard_terry@byu.edu
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  1. Ryan V. Sweetwooda,
  2. Richard E. Terry *a,
  3. Timothy Beachb,
  4. Bruce H. Dahlinc and
  5. David Hixsond
  1. a Plant and Wildlife Sciences, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT 84062
    b School of Foreign Service, 37th and O Streets, NW, Georgetown Univ., Washington, DC 20057
    c Center for Environmental Studies, Shepherd Univ., Shepherdstown, WV 25443
    d Dep. of Anthropology, Tulane Univ., New Orleans, LA 70118


This study explored and characterized soil physical and chemical properties to determine how the ancient Maya of Chunchucmil, Yucatán, Mexico, fed themselves. Our objectives were to examine the soil resources and the areas of agricultural importance surrounding Chunchucmil and to search for evidence of agricultural intensification of soils by night soil and charcoal amendments. The C isotopic signature of ancient C4 crops was not detected, suggesting that either maize (Zea mays L.) was not extensively produced or that the mix of native C3 and C4 plants in the savanna hid the signature. There were no soil chemical or biomarker evidences of ancient agricultural intensification, suggesting that ancient agriculture was mainly based on shifting cultivation and arboriculture at Chunchucmil. Concentrations of black carbon, Ca, P, K, Mg, and organic C within urban and rural settlements were enhanced, but probably by incidental human activities. We estimate that the land requirement to sustain the population of Chunchucmil at its height would have been greater than the available resources based on traditional agricultural methods. We cannot ignore the possibilities of intensification techniques, like intensive weeding, watering, and organic fertilizers that would have left no or only modestly elevated major elements. But it is probable that the ancient Maya of Chunchucmil traded marine and estuary products from the Gulf Coast and other high-value trade items for imported agricultural products.

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