Ecology and Ritual: Water Management and the Maya


How the ancient Maya of the central Yucatecan Lowlands managed their water and land resources remains poorly known although crucial to an understanding of ancient political economy. Recent archival research and field data suggest the widespread use of artificially altered, natural depressions for the collection and containment of water, both for potable consumption and agricultural ends. During the Classic period (A.D. 250-900) several of the principal cities in the Maya area constructed their largest architecture and monuments at the summit of hills and ridges. Associated with these elevated centers-"water mountains"-were sizable, life-sustaining reservoirs quarried into their summits. The effect of this town-planning design was the centralization of a primary and fundamental resource. Although elite managers controlled the water source, other decentralizing forces prevented anything similar to Wittfogel's "total power. " However, by ritually appropriating the everyday and mundane activities associated with water by the sustaining population, elites used high-performance water ritual as manifest in the iconography to further centralize control. The significance of modifying the urban landscape in the partial image of the ordinary water hole defines the extraordinary in Maya ritual.

Cite this Record

Ecology and Ritual: Water Management and the Maya. Vernon L. Scarborough. Latin American Antiquity. 1998 ( tDAR id: 374742) ; doi:10.6067/XCV89885KC

File Information

  Name Size Creation Date Date Uploaded Access
ecology-and-ritual.pdf 1.02mb Feb 3, 2012 9:44:02 AM Public