Maya Wetlands: Ecology and Pre-Hispanic Utilization of Wetlands in Northwestern Belize
AuthorBaker, Jeffrey Lee
AdvisorCulbert, T. Patrick
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn this dissertation, I examine several issues related to the pre-hispanic utilization of wetlands by the Maya. Fourteen hypotheses associated with one model of wetland utilization, the Pohl-Bloom model are tested in this dissertation. The Pohl-Bloom model views the use of wetlands as being restricted in time and space, with wetlands only being utilized in the Preclassic along the Rio Hondo drainage. Rising sea levels caused a rise in the freshwater table, which ultimately forced the Maya to abandon their wetland fields at the end of the Preclassic. Patterns observed in wetlands outside of the Rio Hondo drainage are, according to this model, the remnant of natural features called gilgai. Before examining the Pohl-Bloom model several related aspects of tropical ecology and wetland ecology were examined, including deforestation and climatic change. Though deforestation can influence regional water tables, the deforestation in the Maya area appears to be to have been too early to have had any significant impact on wetland agriculture. Climate change is currently a major topic in Maya studies, with drought conceivably having an influence on wetland agriculture. The present examination of the climatic data, however, that there is not a good correlation between the timing of droughts and the timing of significant changes in Maya culture. Evidence is also presented that questions the reliability of the isotopic data that has been used to study climatic change in the Maya Lowlands. Examination of the Pohl-Bloom model resulted in rejection of all fourteen hypotheses. The available evidence on sea level changes indicates that water levels in the Preclassic were dropping, not rising, while there is no evidence for changes in the water table during the Preclassic. The environmental factors present in the Maya Lowlands are simply not capable of creating large rectilinear gilgai. Similarly, the shallow slopes and absence of the sorting of sediments by size can be used to rule erosion as a major factor in the creation of the wetland stratigraphies. Based upon the available evidence, it is argued that raised fields were utilized throughout northern Belize, having their most widespread distribution in the Late Classic Period.
Degree ProgramGraduate College