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3 Water and Landscape: Ancient Maya Settlement Decisions


In this chapter we present the major transitions in Maya history from the Late Preclassic through Terminal Classic periods in the Maya Lowlands, focusing first on major settlement and subsistence systems, followed by major social and environmental costs. We particularly focus on how the Maya built and relied on increasingly complex water and agricultural systems to adapt in the humid tropics where everything in life was rainfall dependent. The seasonality of rainfall required innovative strategies to contain water throughout the long dry season in the face of growing population and socio-political complexity. Drastic changes occurred when several prolonged droughts struck the Maya area, resulting in them exploring new areas and subsistence practices. The chapter concludes with a few thoughts on how understanding ancient Maya water and land use is relevant for today's issues regarding sustainable land and water use.

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