Hinterland Green

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ancient Mayan Practiced Forest Conservation 3,000 Years Ago

Temple 1 was built second, in 682 to 734 A.D., 
possibly completed after Jasaw Chan K'awiil's death. 
(Credit: Image courtesy of University of Cincinnati)
The ancient Mayans were  much smarter than we have given them credit for. According to an article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, paleoethnobotanist David Lentz of the University of Cincinnati has concluded that not only did the Maya people practice forest management, but when they abandoned their forest conservation practices it was to the detriment of the entire Mayan culture. We have much to thank the Mayans for and many of the relics they have left behind were amazingly ahead of their time.
“From our research we have learned that the Maya were deliberately conserving forest resources,” says David Lentz, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cincinnati and executive director of the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies. “Their deliberate conservation practices can be observed in the wood they used for construction and this observation is reinforced by the pollen record.” Whoa, that's pretty impressive.

The UC team is the first North American team allowed to work at the Tikal site core in northern Guatemala in more than 40 years. The UC team is unique in other ways as well. Whereas previous archaeological excavations reflected an interest in culture history, particularly of the elites, researchers’ interests are different in the 21st century.

“Forty years ago the emphasis was on what king built what palace, who slew whom and who is portrayed on what stelae. It’s all about the rulers and their exploits,” says Lentz. “They didn’t look at the economy, agricultural practices, forest management or how the people and the culture functioned.”

And what the UC team has learned by studying these processes is that the Maya, at least initially, were practicing good forestry management. “They were not allowed to cut down what we’re calling the ‘sacred groves,’” says Lentz. “Then that changed during the Late Classic period with Jasaw Chan K’awiil — one of the greatest figures of prehistory. The Tikal Maya had been beaten up and had fallen to second-rate status prior to his ascendancy. Jasaw Chan K’awiil led an army to the heartland of a competing city, Calakmul, captured their ruler, bound him, brought him back and sacrificed him — and it totally reversed their fortunes in a very dramatic way.”

After that, the Maya rebuilt the city of Tikal in a way never seen before. They begin building huge temples that required considerable resources, especially large, straight trees whose wood could withstand the weight of tons of stone. Their choices were limited to two types of trees only. Source: Science Daily
In addition to using the trees as timber, the Mayans also burned the trees, adding carbon to the air in the form of carbon dioxide. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and return oxygen in its place, thus cleaning and purifying the air. This is very impressive and it would seem, that they were eons ahead of their time. We continue to learn from the Mayan way of life. I am always in awe of the Mayan architecture and the fact that many of those buildings are still standing today.
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