Forests, fields, and the edge of sustainability at the ancient Maya city of Tikal
Periodo de realización: 1900/01/01 al 2014/06/01
Tipo: Artículo científico
Resumen: "Tikal has long been viewed as one of the leading polities of the ancient Maya realm, yet how the city was able to maintain its substantial population in the midst of a tropical forest environment has been a topic of unresolved debate among researchers for decades. We present ecological, paleoethnobotanical, hydraulic, remote sensing, edaphic, and isotopic evidence that reveals how the Late Classic Maya at Tikal practiced intensive forms of agriculture (including irrigation, terrace construction, arboriculture, household gardens, and short fallow swidden) coupled with carefully controlled agroforestry and a complex system of water retention and redistribution. Empirical evidence is presented to demonstrate that this assiduously managed anthropogenic ecosystem of the Classic period Maya was a landscape optimized in a way that provided sustenance to a relatively large population in a preindustrial, low-density urban community. This landscape productivity optimization, however, came with a heavy cost of reduced environmental resiliency and a complete reliance on consistent annual rainfall. Recent speleothem data collected from regional caves showed that persistent episodes of unusually low rainfall were prevalent in the mid-9th century A.D., a time period that coincides strikingly with the abandonment of Tikal and the erection of its last dated monument in A.D. 869. The intensified resource management strategy used at Tikal—already operating at the landscape’s carrying capacity—ceased to provide adequate food, fuel, and drinking water for the Late Classic populace in the face of extended periods of drought. As a result, social disorder and abandonment ensued."