Article | Agriculture in the Ancient Maya Lowlands (Part 1): Paleoethnobotanical Residues and New Perspectives on Plant Management

Shanti Morell-Hart, Lydie Dussol & Scott L. Fedick, Journal of Archaeological Research (2022)

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We focus on pre-Columbian agricultural regimes in the Maya Lowlands, using new datasets of archaeological wood charcoal, seeds, phytoliths, and starch grains; biological properties of plants; and contemporary Indigenous practices. We address inherited models of agriculture in the lowlands: the limitations of the environment (finding more affordances than anticipated by earlier models); the homogeneity of agricultural strategies (finding more heterogeneity of strategies across the lowlands than a single rigid template); the centrality of maize in agriculture (finding more reliance on root crops and tree crops than historically documented); the focus on the milpa system as food base (finding more agroforestry, homegardening, horticulture, and wild resource management than previously documented); the dominance of swidden strategies in agricultural practices (finding more diverse practices than accounted for in most models); and the foregrounding of maize crop failure in collapse models (finding more evidence of resilience and sustainable agricultural practices than predicted).