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July 2002 Issue
The Geographical Review
July 2002, Vol. 92 (3), pp. 372-397
UPLAND AGRICULTURE IN THE MAYA LOWLANDS: ANCIENT MAYA SOIL CONSERVATION IN NORTHWESTERN BELIZE
TIMOTHY BEACH, SHERYL LUZZADDER-BEACH, NICHOLAS DUNNING, JON HAGEMAN, and JON LOHSE
Keywords: agricultural terracing, Maya Lowlands, soil erosion, water
In the 1970s scholars began to accept Maya terracing as the manifestation of ancient intensive agriculture and large populations. We examine many ancient terraces and berms excavated in the Three Rivers region of Belize, synthesize the geography and suggest the intent of terracing across the Maya Lowlands, and analyze the history of terracing and soil erosion. Terraces are found in slope positions and diverted and slowed runoff, to build up planting surfaces that could maximize soil moisture. The first accelerated soil erosion occurred during the Preclassic period (1500 B.C. - A.D. 250). Maya terracing started in the Early Classic period (A.D. 250-600) and spread across the Lowlands with the great population expansion of the Late/Terminal Classic period (A.D. 600-900). But terracing would largely be forsaken thereafter. Though abandoned for a millennium, many terraces still function in today's tropical forests and burning milpas.