Monday, January 7, 2013

The Mayas and Changing the Environment

Changing the Environment
Some archaeologists believe that the Mayan population may have grown to 14 million people by the end of the Classic period. There may have been as many as 500 people per square mile (200 per sq km) in some places. The ancient region where the Mayas lived could have been more crowded than present-day China.

Feeding such a large population took a lot of thought and planning. The Mayas had to find ways to use their tropical rain forest environment to meet their needs for food.
The ancient Mayas, like their modern descendants, cut and burned parts of the rain forest to provide land for growing crops. This slash-and-burn farming, however, can support only small communities. This is because the ashes fertilize the soil for no more than three years. Then the land must lie free of crops for several years until the soil regains the nutrients needed for growing plants.

As their population increased, the Mayas invented new ways to grow more crops. In swampy areas, they built raised fields. On hillsides, they made terraces, or ledges, they could use for farmland.

Like the Olmec farmers, Mayan farmers used intercropping to grow maize, beans, and squash in the same field. They also grew avocados, a starchy food called ramon, and cacao beans.

How did the Mayas produce enough food to support a large population in the rain forest?

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