Heterarchical Entanglement: The Complexity of Maya Water Management

Author(s): Adrian Chase

Year: 2016


Many large cities of the ancient Maya, occupied in the Classic Period from 300 to 900 CE, had limited or no access to permanent bodies of water. Instead, these low-density urban centers focused on harnessing the full extent of the seasonal rainfall their tropical environment provided. Previous research has highlighted the complex water management practices of the ancient Maya through their built environment and the sequestration of water into reservoirs (constructed feature sealed with clay or lime-plaster) and agaudas (naturally occurring water storage features). Based primarily on the prevalence, scale, and grandeur of large monumental reservoirs in city centers, the literature on water management has been dominated by top-down models of water control; however, many smaller household reservoirs have also been identified. Comparative archaeological research in other tropical areas highlights the existence of both top-down and bottom-up water control systems that worked in tandem. The ancient Maya also employed a substantial bottom-up model of complex water management. This paper examines, first, how this bottom-up system helped support sizeable ancient Maya populations in locations where a modern city would require drastic and costly hydrological engineering efforts and, second, how water management affected the trajectory of many Classic Maya states.

Cite this Record

Heterarchical Entanglement: The Complexity of Maya Water Management. Adrian Chase. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403372)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;