9430Ma: Response to Etc. on Drought and the Maya Collapse
- Jan 22, 2003Jerry Ek wrote (in part):
Although agriculture and environmental reconstruction are not my
specialty, I could not help but add some comments on the recent
debate concerning drought models for the Maya collapse.
In Response to Jeff Baker, Martin Peach commented that:
>Hodell et al (Science 292 p1367) have the major drought startingMe (John):
>around AD 750, ie the 8th century, in the central Yucatan.
Does that mean a 'minor' drought was in the making prior?
>might expect that the main population effects of a severe droughtOnly if practicing intensive agriculture and having lost the art
>would show up at the beginning of the period as the system was
>caught off guard with several failed harvests in succession, and
>that after no more than a few decades, the survivors would have
>learned to live under the new regime, for instance by learning to
>use the groundwater aquifers instead of rainfall to irrigate
of non-intensive, yet productive, agriculture as nevertheless and
always maintained (for having no other alternative) on the Yucatan
On site relearning and adaption of the prevailing system, then,
may not have been necessary. The Yucatan Penisnula already had a
system adapted to independence from rainfall while, at the same
time, had enough urban/rural zones laying in fallow (and thus
available) by the Maya already resident.
>It also seems to me that the climate data from lake cores isJerry EK:
>likely more accurate than current population estimates. It may be
>for instance that as the climate dried out, scattered farmers
>moved to locations with cenotes, giving rise a population
>increase at these centres, while the corresponding depopulation
>of the hinterland would go unnoticed using current archaological
"This speculative reconstruction simply does not fit the data.
The population expansion that is very well documented in the
archaeological data from the Puuc region contradicts any model of
migrations for the purpose of accessing ground water aquifers.
The Puuc region is a series of hills located high above the water
table, making the use of underground water sources (for any
purpose, much less irrigation), impossible."
The Puuc region hardly exemplifies the relatively low-lying
In any case, if your migration models consider how even relative
Maya already resident to the peninsula were themselves
systematically migrating from one city/rural site to another
within thier zones such as the Puuc region, the Puuc region would
have always been both the least populated and, ironically, the
least likely to migrate away from their zone. They had already
adapted a successful system to their water-problematic terrain.
Where southern Maya did most migrate was, it seems, the wide zone
just north of the (normally) rain forests to Coba/Calakmul where
they may have even attempted, though failed, constructing a useful
irrigation canal (before thier on-site learning of the
systemization of this nevertheless productive zone).
"If the eighth century was a period of widespread draught, it
would seem very odd that centers in the Puuc (which relied on
very unstable rainwater resources), would be flourishing at this
time. This is part of a general trend of population expansion
during the Terminal Classic/Early Postclassic in Yucatan, which
is the driest part of the Maya area."
John: Did, in fact, the Puuc's population expand? Not that it
matters in the sense that the system they adapted to their even
driest terrain nevertheless flourished for still small (but
erroneously recounted) numbers.
"Pushing this drought back to the 8th century does not put the
model in accordance with the archaeological data, especially when
one considers the new chronologies being proposed in Yucatan that
are pushing back the periods of expansion at sites like Chichen.
Jeff Baker was correct in his statement that drought models do
not fit the data for this part of the Lowlands."
Not if these, initial, so-called "population expansion" of even
the Puuc was attributable to even Maya already resident to other
city/rural zones within the Puuc region or the peninsula itself.
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