Advances in Wetland Archaeology in the Americas

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Over the last several decades, studies in Central and South America have demonstrated that numerous wetland areas were modified in the Pre-Columbian past, transforming marginal areas into highly productive agricultural land and profitable centers of aquaculture. Scholars emphasize the diversity of these complex hydrological features, which include raised, ditched, and drained fields, canals for transportation and drainage, as well as dams and pools for managing seasonal flooding and trapping fish. Scholars continue to debate the chronology and use of wetland features, the technology and organization of their production, the populations these environments were able to support, and the role(s) wetlands may have played in both local and regional economies in the past. In recent years, research has shown wetlands provide a rich repository of sediments, fauna, and plant remains that offer important proxies for gauging climate change, such as drought, and for understanding human-environment interactions and adaptive responses to stress in pre-Hispanic times. In addition, our understanding of the nature and aerial extent of these features has improved through more advanced aerial survey and mapping techniques, including satellite imagery, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other spatial technologies. These and other advances in wetland research in the Americas are presented here.

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  • Documents (11)

  • Ancient Maya Wetland Features in the Eastern Belize Watershed (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Eleanor Harrison-Buck.

    The Belize River East Archaeology (BREA) project is examining the wetlands of the eastern Belize Watershed. Within this 6000 km2 study area, there exists 122 km2 of perennial wetlands (28% of all wetlands in Belize). Here we report on the beginning stages of our investigations of an expansive wetland area in the northern part of the BREA study area. Through aerial survey we have identified ditched and drained fields and other canal features that resemble ancient wetland features found elsewhere...

  • Ecological legacies of pre-Columbian raised fields and their implications for agroecosystems today (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Delphine Renard. Anne Zangerle. Doyle McKey.

    Some South American lowland environments bear impressive legacies of pre-Columbian agriculture: vestiges of raised fields that have persisted since their abandonment centuries or millennia ago. In an interdisciplinary approach, we aim at understanding how the construction and use of raised fields in the past influence the functioning of these ecosystems today. In a raised-field landscape in a seasonally flooded coastal savanna of French Guiana, we characterized the distribution of soil...

  • Forest islands and raised fields in the 2nd millennium BCE Amazon (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Walker.

    Pre-Columbian earthworks in the Llanos de Mojos show discrete spatial patterns, at different scales. For example, large mounds and causeways are found in the southeast, causeways and raised fields in the south, and large raised fields in the center and to the north. Recent excavations in forest islands associated with raised fields in Central Mojos identify occupations dating to the second millennium BCE. This raises the question of how to integrate different elements into histories of...

  • A Late Holocene Environmental Reconstruction from a Wetland in the Northern Holmul Region: Preliminary Results from Laguna Ek’Naab, Peten, Guatemala (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Wahl. Lysanna Anderson. Francisco Estrada-Belli.

    Environmental change, caused by either human activity or climate variability, has been posited as a contributing factor in causing widespread demographic shifts in the southern Maya lowlands at the end of the Preclassic and Classic periods. Here we present preliminary results of analyses examining environmental change during and after the period of Pre-Columbian Maya settlement. Environmental reconstructions are based on a multi-proxy approach, including pollen, macroscopic charcoal, stable...

  • Linear Features in the Bajo de Azucar, Guatemala: Multiple Origins and Uses (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Robert Griffin. Nicholas Dunning. Tom Sever. William Saturno.

    Examination of satellite imagery in 2006 revealed a number of linear features of varying lengths in a remote section of the Bajo de Azucar, a large swampy depression in northeast Guatemala. Ground exploration and excavation of several of these features in 2007 and 2008 documented a combination of natural and anthropogenic origins. We argue that the ancient Maya modified and extended natural channels within the bajo for several possible reasons: 1) to facilitate transportation across a difficult...

  • Living Systems of Raised-Field Agriculture in Africa: What Can They Tell Us About Pre-Columbian Systems in the Neotropics? (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Doyle McKey. Mélisse Durécu. Marion Comptour. Christine Raimond. Axelle Solibiéda.

    The study of pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture is marked by several unresolved questions: How did raised fields function as agroecosystems? Were they cultivated continuously or were fallow periods incorporated? What population densities did they support? Did making and managing raised-field landscapes require top-down control in a hierarchical society (or supervision by specialists)? Can raised-field agriculture play any role in reconciling food production and ecosystem services in...

  • Maya Wetland Fields from 2014 and Earlier Coring Evidence (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Timothy Beach. Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach. Samantha Krause. Melisa Bishop. Duncan Cook.

    This paper has two main goals: first to present our latest findings for wetland field formation from a series of 2014 palustrine, floodplain, and lacustrine cores, and second to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches to coring: piston-, soil-, and vibra-coring compared with excavation in these environments. We first present how the new cores from 2014 at Akab Muclil and Laguna Verde compare with previous coring and excavation data toward understanding ancient...

  • Maya Wetlands: Natural and Anthropogenic (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Samantha Krause. Timothy Beach. Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach. Thomas Guderjan.

    In our continuing endeavors to better understand Maya wetland formation and agricultural systems across the Maya Lowlands, we now compare natural and anthropogenic wetland field formation. Natural wetland processes can form patterned environments that may be similar visually to intensive, culturally modified, wetland systems. This paper will consider natural factors that can produce similar topography to Maya wetland fields. We will also present aerial photography, GIS, soil stratigraphy, and...

  • On the Origins of Raised-Field Farming in the Lake Titicaca Basin of the Andes (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Maria Bruno.

    One of the most dynamic debates in the archaeology of the Lake Titicaca Basin of the Andes surrounds the appearance and disappearance of raised-field farming. There is now a general consensus that raised-fields were a Formative period indigenous technology that was expanded upon by the Tiwanaku state and that fell out of use, except in small pockets, when the state declined. In this paper, I use ethnographic and archaeological data from the Taraco Peninsula, Bolivia to tackle the rather nebulous...

  • Understanding the paleogeography and Maya ditched fields along the Rio Hondo, Belize and Mexico (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Colleen Hanratty. Thomas Guderjan. Sheryl Luzzader-Beach. Timothy Beach. Samantha Krause.

    In recent years, we have identified numerous sets of ditched agricultural fields along the Rio Hondo floodplain. In this paper we examine the paleogeographic and archaeological contexts of these fields. The commonalities of their settings offer perspective on their social functions and insight into who controlled them and how this control was manifest into settlement patterns. We discuss the geography of the riverine zone, the settings in which ditched fields are found and known related...

  • Waste not, want not: A multi-proxy perspective on soil formation at Marco Gonzalez, Ambergris Caye, Belize (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lindsay Duncan. Elizabeth Graham.

    Set in a coastal wetland environment, Marco Gonzalez—to paraphrase the session abstract—is a repository of sediments, fauna, artefacts and plant remains, pertinent to an understanding of human-environment interactions. Marco Gonzalez is also an area of naturally occurring coral sand, grasses and sedges that has been transformed over time into cultivable land. Our preliminary results indicate, however, an inadvertent, rather than planned, transformation. Nonetheless, the site can be characterised...