Mapping Maya Cornfields
Monday, February 11, 2013
Archaeologists have wondered for decades how the ancient Maya, who maintained large cities in hilly territory covered with rain forest and thin soil, were able to produce enough food to support their numbers. “That’s the Maya mystery,” says Richard Terry, a Brigham Young University soil scientist whose work explores the agricultural methods of the civilization. In an excavation at Tikal, Guatemala, once a Maya settlement of some 60,000 people, Terry’s interdisciplinary team is constructing a map of where and when the 115-square-mile site was planted with corn, one of the Maya’s staple crops. Corn leaves distinctive traces in the soil, which the team revealed using mass spectrometry. Understanding how the Maya made use of the land could reveal how they fed their large populations and whether agricultural shortfalls hastened the decline of the civilization.
IN THIS ISSUE
From the Trenches
Correcting the record on Tycho Brahe, a 2.5-mile-long labyrinth among Peru’s Nazca Lines, Ramesses III may have been the victim of a “Harem Conspiracy,” and northwestern India identified as the birthplace of the Romani