A Review of Human and Natural Changes in Maya Lowlands Wetlands over the Holocene

Part of the Blue Creek project

Year: 2009


In the Maya Lowlands of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala two main types of wetlands have played important roles in human history: bajos or intermittently wet environments of the upland, interior Yucatán and perennial wetlands of the coastal plains. Many of the most important Maya sites encircle the bajos, though our growing evidence for human-wetland interactions is still sparse. The deposits of these wetlands record two main eras of slope instability and wetland aggradation: the Pleistocene-Holocene transition as rainfall increased and forests eclipsed savannas and the Maya Preclassic to Classic as deforestation, landuse intensity, and drying increased. The ancient Maya adapted with terraces around these bajo margins but retracted in the Late Preclassic in some areas. The perennial wetlands of the coastal plains have different histories, and the first conceptual model of human-wetland interaction described intensive wetland agriculture in the Preclassic through Classic based on raised fields and canals. But a second model arose that interpreted the wetland stratigraphy and canals as more indicative of natural aggradation by accelerated erosion and gypsum precipitation that buried Archaic and Preclassic fields and there was little Classic era use. We present new data on a third and fourth model in this study. The third is a hybrid of the models one and two, including the Archaic to Preclassic aggradation of the second model, and the first model’s Classic period fields and canals as piecemeal attempts by the Maya to adapt to these and other environmental changes. The fourth conceptual model describes a very Late/Terminal Classic, preplanned project on a floodplain. These wetland fields were short-lived, aggraded rapidly but with some reoccupation in the Postclassic. All of these new models display the burgeoning evidence for intricate Maya interactions with wetlands, and the diversity of evidence from the relatively few studies underscores the infancy of our understanding of Maya interaction with tropical wetlands.

Cite this Record

A Review of Human and Natural Changes in Maya Lowlands Wetlands over the Holocene. 2009 ( tDAR id: 4538) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8S180W1

Spatial Coverage

min long: -91.022; min lat: 15.38 ; max long: -88.297; max lat: 18.365 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contributor(s): Tim Beach; Luzzadder Beach; Nicholas Dunning; John Jones; Jon Lohse; Steve Bozarth; Sarah Millspaugh; Tripti Bhattachary

File Information

  Name Size Creation Date Date Uploaded Access
maya_marsh_models_accepted_2609_with_figs-1.pdf 771.80kb Oct 16, 2010 10:43:14 AM Public