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Unformatted text preview: g.com 在在在在在在在在在在在在在在在,在在在在在在在在在在 Maya Water Problems
To understand the ancient Mayan people who lived in the area that is today southern Mexico and Central America and the ecological difficulties they faced, one must first consider their environment, which we think of as “jungle" or 'tropical rainforest." This view is inaccurate, and the reason proves to be important. Properly speaking, tropical rainforests grow in highrainfall equatorial areas that remain wet or humid all year round. But the Maya homeland lies more than sixteen hundred kilometers from the equator, at latitudes 17 to 22 degrees north, in a habitat termed a “seasonal tropical forest." That is, while there does tend to be a rainy season from May to October, there is also a dry season from January through April. If one focuses on the wet months, one calls the Maya homeland a "seasonal tropical forest"; if one focuses on the dry months, one could instead describe it as a "seasonal desert.”
From north to south in the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Maya lived, rainfall ranges from 18 to 100 inches (457 to 2,540 millimeters) per year, and the soils become thicker, so that the southern peninsula was agriculturally more productive and supported denser populations. But rainfall in the Maya homeland is unpredictably variable between years; some recent years have had three or four times more rain than other years. As a result, modern farmers attempting to grow corn in the ancient Maya homelands have faced frequent crop failures, especially in the north. The ancient Maya were presumably more experienced and did better, but nevertheless they too must have faced risks of crop failures from droughts and hurricanes.
Although southem Maya areas received more rainfall than northern areas, problems of water were paradoxically more severe in the wet south. While that made things hard for ancient Maya living in the south, it has also made things hard for modem archaeologists who have difficulty understanding why ancient droughts caused bigger problems in the wet south than in the dry north. The likely explanation is that an area of underground freshwater underlies the Yucatan Peninsula, but surface elevation increases from north to south, so that as one moves south the land surface lies increasingly higher above the water table. In the northern peninsula the elevation is sufficiently low that the ancient Maya were able to reach the water table at deep sinkholes called cenotes, or at deep caves. In low
elevation north coastal areas without sinkholes, the Maya would have been able to get down to the water table by digging wells up to 75 feet (22 meters) deep. But much of the south lies too high above the water table for cenotes or wells to reach down to it. Making matters worse, most of the Yucatan Peninsula consists of karst, a porous sponge
like limestone terrain where rain runs straight into the ground and where little or no surface water remains available.
How did those dense...
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- Fall '13