Monday, January 30, 2012

Ancient Mayan Farming

The ancient Mayans possessed several farming techniques they used to grow their crops, including the slash and burn method, terracing and a technique using raised fields. The method used by the farmers depended on the land.

Slash and Burn Farming
Slash and burn farming -- a technique also known as “milpa” -- is a technique that Mayans in forested areas would use. The process involves cutting down the growth in an area, burning it and using the resulting field to plant in, using the ashes as added soil nutrition. After several years, the nutrition in the soil would be used up. The Maya would burn down and plant in another area, leaving the first area to grow back.

Terrace Farming
This method was used in more mountainous areas, such as the highlands. Like the Inca, the ancient Mayans who used this method cut terraces into the hillsides to make usable plots.

Raised Field Farming
In the lowlands of the Mayan world, it can by swampy so the farming style had to be different. Farmers in swamps dug up the mud and shaped it into raised fields that rose 2 to 4 feet above the water canals that surrounded them. Fish swam in these canals and provided fertilizer via their droppings. Plants grew on the canals like the water lily, helping to keep the canals from drying up, and farmers would use the plants as fertilizer.

The lowland, swamp system of farming could be very productive, though it was hard work. The raised fields produced two or three harvests every year.

References

"A Forest of Kings"; Linda Schele, David Friedel; 1990


National Geographic: Maya Rise and Fall – Did You Know?


"The Maya" 5th Ed.; Michael D. Coe; 1993


California State University Northridge: Mayan Agriculture Techniques

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