Monday, January 30, 2012

Ancient Maya Farming



Author's note: This post was last updated on 11/16/17.
Image from the Library of Congress's Flickr page, slightly modified
Across the ancient Maya civilization, it looks like there were different ways of farming. Some of these ways could only be used in certain locations. Currently, with a plan to expand it in the future, this post touches on some of those methods -- including milpa, terrace fields, bajos and aguadas, raised fields, and rejolladas. There is also some information on gender and farming as well as tools.

Milpa
Milpa was a popular choice for farming across the Maya civilization. Milpa used to be understood as a process that first meant cutting down and burning all the plants on a piece of land -- the ash made the soil more nutritious for plants. Then, it was thought, the Maya farmed there as long as the soil had enough nutrition to grow a good harvest. When the soil wasn't good enough anymore, then another piece of land was turned into a field in the same way, while the first piece of land became forest again. (This kind of farming has other names, one of which is slash and burn.)

It seems now though that the ancient Maya did more than this. They didn't just leave the land to become forest. Instead, they slowly made the field into a garden. Then they gradually let this garden become actual forest, which they would then burn down to start the field again.

Terrace Fields
This kind of field was popular in hilly land in the lowlands. Using terrace fields kept soil from eroding and helped catch rain. 

Archaeologists have found the Maya used more than one kind of terrace to farm. One kind that seems to have been a common choice was the cross-channel terrace. This kind of terrace, which you may see called the weir terrace, is made in a gully that has water pass through it during the rainy season. The Maya would build walls in these gullies so that the silt in the water got caught, adding to the soil's ability to grow plants. 

Another common kind of terrace they liked to use was the contour terrace, which is probably what you think of when it comes to terrace fields. To make them, the ancient Maya built fields into hillsides, kept in place with walls made of stone. Contour fields were the most popular type of terrace used by the ancient Maya who decided to use terraces.

Bajos and Aguadas
The bajo (BAH-ho) and the aguada (ah-GWA-dah) are both depressions -- that is, land that isn't as high as the rest of the land around it -- that are in the lowlands. 

Bajos are also what's called a seasonal wetland or seasonal swamp, as the water in it dries during the dry season. There is a layer of dirt at bajos' edges that is great for plants. The ancient Maya may have used this dirt to grow crops.

Aguadas are ponds and lakes that are also seasonal: they dry up in the dry season -- though there are large ones don't dry up all the way -- and get filled with rain during the rainy season. The ancient Maya may have waited until an aguada dried up some, then planted some crops -- and the more the aguada dried, the more they planted. (The ancient Maya also had aguadas that were just for getting water.)

Raised Fields
The Maya area so far looks like it's the oldest part of Mesoamerica where the people used raised fields. The ancient Maya used these fields in places where there was a lot of water naturally in the soil. 

To make a raised field, the ancient Maya dug channels around pieces of land they wanted to farm. They put the dirt from digging the channels onto the pieces of land, which made them higher than the channels. Water from the dirt went into the channels.  Certain animals -- fish as well as turtles -- lived in the canals.

These fields had to be kept in good repair, because the dirt would go back into the channels on its own over time. However, there was something good that came from this -- the Maya would dig up the mud on the bottom of the channels, which had lots of plant nutrition in it, and put it on top of the fields. 

Rejolladas
Found in the northern lowlands, a rejollada (reh-ho-YAH-dah) is a sinkhole that forms in limestone -- in fact, a lot used to be cenotes that got filled in somewhat because of erosion. Rejolladas have more dirt at their bottoms than the land around them, and this dirt that also has more water in it. The air inside rejolladas is different too, as it is not as warm as the land that's higher than it.

The ancient Maya used -- or may have used -- rejolladas as a source of topsoil for growing plants elsewhere. They also farmed -- or may have farmed -- in them. In fact, these sinkholes may have let the ancient Maya grow plants such as cacao, which is a plant that farmers need lots of water to grow.

Tools
A planting tool that we know the Maya civilization used to plant things was the dibber -- other names you may find include the dibble stick or even just dibble. A dibber is not complicated. It's a wooden stick that has a pointy end, kind of like a spear or a kabob skewer but a lot less sharp. The Maya used dibbers to make holes with the pointy end, and after they did that they put seeds into the holes.
 
Another tool known to the ancient Maya was a sort of hatchet or ax. The handle was made of wood, and could be 12 to 16 inches long. The head was a "celt" made of chert. The Maya stuck the head into the handle, near one end. This type of ax/hatchet, according to The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives, was the tool the ancient Maya used the most for farming.


Farming and Gender
As for gender, there's a theory that farming was men's work -- and women did different jobs at the house. However, it's possible that women may have done the job of weeding with men. Another farming job that women might have done with men is harvesting crops.

References:
Google Books: "The Value of Things: Prehistory to Contemporary Commodities in the Maya Region"; Jennifer P. Mathews, Thomas H. Guderjan; 2017

Google Books: "Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya"; Walter R.T. Witschey; 2016

University of Florida: Florida Museum: "Advances in Archaeological Practice" Volume 4, No. 3: "Understanding Ancient Maya Agricultural Terrace Systems through Lidar and Hydrological Mapping"; Scott Macrae, Gyles Iannone; 2016


Google Books: "The Maya Forest Garden: Eight Millenia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands"; Anabel Ford, Ronald Nigh; 2015


Google Books: "The Great Maya Droughts in Cultural Context: Case Studies in Resilience and Vulnerability"; Gyles Iannone (editor); 2014


Google Books: "Ancient Households of the Americas: Conceptualizing What Households Do"; John G. Douglass, Nancy Gonlin (editors); 2012


University of Central Florida: STARS: Electronic Theses and Dissertations Masters Thesis (Open Access): "Geographic And Environmental Influence On Maya Settlement Patterns Of The Northwest Yucatan: An Explanation For The Sparsely Settled Western Cenote Zone"; Patrick Rohrer; 2012




Florida Virtual Campus: Electronic Theses and Dissertations: "Agriarian Production and Intensification at a Postclassic Maya Community, Buena Vista, Cozumel, Mexico"; Adolfo Ivan Batun Alpuche; 2009
Google Books: "Ancient Maya Women"; Traci Ardren (editor); 2002

The Pennsylvania State University: Electronic Theses and Dissertations for Graduate School: "Chapter 2: Background and Framework"

The Free Dictionary: Encyclopedia: Shifting Agriculture

123 comments:

  1. images!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka...waka

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lolololololololololololoololololoololoooloololololooooo,oolol

      Delete
    2. dont be stupid

      Delete
    3. your such a stupid idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Delete
    4. dont mess up this page,please. I am 13 years old and I am using this page to do homework

      Delete
    5. i still dont see how this will help me in life #notaboutthislife #scandalbag

      Delete
    6. ^^ why would you share your age idiot

      Delete
    7. hola como estas

      Delete
    8. do u go on jiksha

      Delete
  3. lololollolololololollollololololololollolololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololo

    ReplyDelete
  4. does any bodie know about the mayans

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. seriously, you should really learn how to read

      Delete
    2. LoOk, YOu ShOuLd ReAlLy JuSt LeT pEoPlE sAy WhAt ThEy WaNt It Is NoT yOuR dEcIsIoN oF wHaT pEoPlE sAy So JuSt LeAvE eVeRyOnE aLoNe AnD iF yOu DoNt LiKe ThE wAy ThEy TaLk YoU sHoUlD jUsT LeAvE iNsTeAd! So ThErE!!!!

      Delete
    3. overpopulation coupled with overuse of the environment just like we are doing now.

      Delete
  5. Replies
    1. You don't need to be saying that. I don't know how old you are, but GROW UP!

      Delete
    2. shut up, no one cares, why dont you grow up, all this person said was KKK, you dont need to be saying what you said but you still did, let the person say what they want, they wont listen to you anyways

      Delete
  6. Yo, if you guys don't need to use this, don't put stupid comments on it. The writer will not care if you do that so get the frik off of the website! If you need to use it for a project or something, go ahead, but if not, GO AWAY.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. good idea
      #cool

      Delete
    2. wow this is so cool guys im learning so much i did my twelve years of slave and now im here :) guys i hope god blesses everyone of you lolololololololoololo peace and blrssings

      Delete
    3. You guys have no lives if your going to spam a learning site so get off

      Delete
    4. Person who said "you guys have no lives if your going to spam a learning site so get off" some people are really sensitive so they could take that offensively, that is called cyber bullying. You are also commenting which means you are saying that you yourself have no life. Also, we were given the freedom to comment whatever we want, dont try to change someone, let them be themselves, if you dont like the way people talk on here dont look at the comments or just leave, cause no is going to care what you say so dont try to get people to listen to you.

      Delete
  7. you Americans are disgraceful

    ReplyDelete
  8. LoOk,ThIS WebSITe iS fOr CHIldREN,So iF yoUR GoiNG to UsE adULt LAnGUAge,Go SOMwhErE eLsE

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. so true
      #nice idea

      Delete
    2. if you dont like the way people talk the just leave, people can say what they want, its not your decision, its the person that created this article and if they want to disable comments they can

      Delete
  9. This site helped me get an A on my project

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This site helped me put a "D" in my butt

      notice how its uppercase

      thank you sooo much

      Delete
  10. Doing my project.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts!

    ReplyDelete
  12. please dont use inaproprate language. I am 13 years old and I am using this page to do a Project for school

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. im 12 and i am perfectly fine

      how you doinnnnn

      Delete
  13. Can you please tell me more about the Mayan farming and insert a little bit about hunting. Please

    ReplyDelete
  14. guys stop swearing and writing random stuff...if you aren't gonna use this page for schoolwork or anything just get off...Thanks! :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. thx, i needed this for school work and it was very helpful :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. People are right, saying bad things to that man will not hurt him. And there is always Karma.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I needed this for school and it explained the Slash and Burn method for me in a simple way! Thanks ;)

    ReplyDelete
  18. and for the rest of the farming stuff too

    ReplyDelete
  19. This website really helped me!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I'm really feeling it!

    ReplyDelete
  21. SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  22. STOP SAYING CURSE WWORRDDSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Bamboo is a wonder plant by all accounts. It uses include erosion control, watershed protection, soil remediation, and environmental greening
    Farm Plots in Hyderabad
    Plots in Hyderabad
    Residential Plots in Hyderabad
    Huda Plots in Hyderabad
    dlf Plots in Hyderabad

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hello, i need help for a History project, i need to know about Ancient Mayans, Can you help?

    ReplyDelete
  25. Read nice short stories at: http://misofthomework.somee.com/BlogList.aspx

    ReplyDelete
  26. tell me where they farmed

    ReplyDelete
  27. Jason Nowacki is from California rancho palos verdes

    ReplyDelete
  28. Fu*k mayans, they already dead. This is so pointless page. Live in the PRESENT !!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many Mayans are still alive today. Apparently you don't do your homework.

      Delete
  29. dude stop it its really annoying stop talking about yourself dumbo

    ReplyDelete
  30. sorry it was just a joke

    ReplyDelete
  31. thanks alot this was very helpful

    ReplyDelete
  32. I think there should be something more about sport here. Specially about football or basketball. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  33. I think there should be something more about pokemon

    ReplyDelete
  34. dont be stupid, pokemons arent real

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. POKEMON ARE REAL!!!

      Delete
  35. If your using this page for homework there is a simple solution about these here comments, don't look at them, problem solved, TAADAAAA

    ReplyDelete
  36. But the author of this page did really good job, I don't want people to make fun of him.

    ReplyDelete
  37. This site is really rescorcefull

    ReplyDelete
  38. Do you know anything about Mayan music?

    ReplyDelete
  39. I hate school, why am I forced to do this homework?!?!?

    ReplyDelete
  40. seriously dude, first of all, bad grammar you're probably just some dumb ass that doesnt pay attention to the world around them, second of all, what if everyone forgot about you when you died, you wouldnt be alive anymore so you wouldnt matter.

    ReplyDelete
  41. who the heck are you talking to????????

    ReplyDelete
  42. I tried to reply to someones comment but it didnt work :l

    ReplyDelete
  43. well, you really shouldnt be talking to people like that, this isnt just some website to comment stupid things, use it for homework or schoolwork, not for spamming with comments

    ReplyDelete
  44. Thanks you so much for this, really helped with my assignment, and people are just hating on your site, so don't care!

    ReplyDelete
  45. What would happen if they didnt do there daily jobs?

    ReplyDelete
  46. Lol I love these comments there so stupid but funny

    ReplyDelete
  47. love it thnx!! best page about mayans ever!

    ReplyDelete
  48. more about how they got their water and supplies used insted of just different types to plant

    ReplyDelete
  49. boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo i hate learning

    ReplyDelete
  50. reply if your in sacred heart la school and in sixth grade doing mayan civilization project

    ReplyDelete
  51. Anonymous you are the dumbess person I've seen write that much stuff ^^^ and still write on Jan 4th 2017 at 11:41 AM. But as you know, I am probally a dumbass out of all dumbasses.

    ReplyDelete
  52. thank you a lot for the website, it really helped me with a project I'm doing (=

    ReplyDelete