Risk, agricultural intensification, political administration, and collapse in the classic period gulf lowlands: A view from above

Publication date: April 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 80
Author(s): Wesley D. Stoner
Satellite imagery and a LiDAR-based DEM have enabled the identification of more area of agricultural intensification in the Gulf lowlands than anywhere else in Classic period (∼300–800 CE) ancient Mesoamerica. This research helps to unravel the complex relationships among population density, settlement organization, food production, agricultural management, and level of sociopolitical complexity. The following conclusions are made: 1) Vestiges of agricultural intensification occur primarily in areas with dense concentrations of prehispanic monumental architecture, which represent nodes of political authority; 2) Nevertheless, some regions with evidence of intensification are distant from any monumental architectural complexes, indicating that at least some fields were constructed using family and corporate labor outside direct political oversight; 3) Intensified agricultural field area correlates negatively with the amount of rainfall recorded in historic times along the coast, suggesting that intensifications may have aimed either to reduce risks associated with exclusive use of rainfall (non-irrigation) agriculture or to maximize the annual growth cycle to produce a surplus; 4) Limited dating suggests that use of intensified agriculture ceased around the same time (∼500–800 CE) just before a massive depopulation took place across much of the Gulf lowlands. This pattern implicates environmental and social stresses as part of the multifaceted process of Classic period collapse in the Gulf lowlands.