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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Plotting, Planting and Prospering: Ancient Maya Agricultural Production and Water Management at Actuncan, Belize

  • Author(s): Heindel, Theresa
  • Advisor(s): Stanton, Travis
  • et al.

This dissertation will focus on several land use strategies utilized during the Late and Terminal Classic periods at the archaeological site of Actuncan, Belize (a Late Preclassic and Early Classic regional center), including terracing, water channeling, agricultural plots, and chich cobble mounds. Excavations in commoner settlement zone of the site exposed three terracing and water management system methods: 1) terraforming, in which earthen berms were created to facilitate water drainage, 2) low plastered walls utilized for water channeling, and 3) two small agricultural plot systems filled with a large amount of redeposited domestic trash. These features are representative of household-level land transformation, as well as localized land use based on microenvironments and specific social and political contexts. In addition, GIS flooding models indicate a number of linear cobble mounds to the east of the Actuncan site core, along the Mopan River floodplain, may have been used as a cacao orchard, thus creating an economic opportunity or tribute system that could have benefitted the entire community. Together, these systems reflect how the ancient Maya at Actuncan managed water and agricultural production based on site-level environmental knowledge, and the scale at which these technologies were administered. In addition, while the Late and Terminal Classic period was a time of elite loss of power at the site of Actuncan, the agricultural plot systems and chich cobble mounds created and utilized during these periods denote commoner endurance in the face of political turbulence.

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