The tropical lowlands of southern Mexico and Central America are composed of a complex mosaic of landscapes that presented a variety of possibilities and challenges to the subsistence practices of the ancient Maya. The Yalahau Regional Human Ecology Project has been investigating ancient Maya agricultural practices and use of resources in a unique fresh-water wetland zone located in the northeast corner of the Yucatan Peninsula. While containing only a sparse population today, the Yalahau region once supported numerous Maya communities and civic-ceremonial centers, particularly during the Late Preclassic and Early Classic periods, between approximately 100 B.C. and A.D. 450. Our investigations have developed evidence that the ancient Maya manipulated and cultivated the wetland landscape of the region, used soil or algae from the wetlands to enrich upland garden plots, and cultivated trees within their communities. We suggest that the study of ancient Maya agricultural practices can contribute to sustainable development of the area today and in the future.
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