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9430Ma: Response to Etc. on Drought and the Maya Collapse

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  • jpastore@nettaxi.com
    Jan 22, 2003
      Jerry 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 starting
      >around AD 750, ie the 8th century, in the central Yucatan.

      Me (John):

      Does that mean a 'minor' drought was in the making prior?

      >might expect that the main population effects of a severe drought
      >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

      Only if practicing intensive agriculture and having lost the art
      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 is
      >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

      Jerry EK:

      "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."

      Me (John):

      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).

      Jerry Ek:

      "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.

      Jerry Ek:

      "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.

      John Pastore

      Copyright � AZTLAN <AZTLAN@...> 2002.
      All rights reserved.
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