A major part of the natural environment of Yucatán is a paucity of rain for six months a year and a thin layer of soil that was insufficient for supporting agriculture using traditional methods. To feed the growing population Maya technology combined agricultural technology with water management to enhance the yield of their agriculture, a yield that satisfied the needs of the population with a surplus for trade. The Maya had a wide variety of cultivars; many of which constitute our basic agriculture products sold in modern super markets. Maya agricultural products include corn, squash, beans, tomatoes chili peppers, avocado, papaya, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, vanilla, peanuts pineapple, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and many others. They developed creative methodologies to enhance the agricultural yield included raised field methods and terraced fields.

thumb 8-8 Raised fieldsRaised field/wetland agriculture

Maya engineers used marshland and wetland “bajos” to develop the raised field system of agriculture. The Maya engineers laid out the fields in a Cartesian coordinate grid pattern with canals following the grid lines. The level of the area between the grids was raised with soil excavated from the canals. This agricultural system of water management included the design of canals, raised platform fields, and aquaculture farming in the canals. The figure indicates this concept where the canals are excavated down to the bottom of the soil level with the excavated material and additional soil is placed in the area between the canals to elevate the surface to a level that kept the roots of the crops above the water level. Canals were a medium for growth of food as aquaculture: growing turtles, fish, amphibians, and vegetation that supplemented the diet of the Maya.

Agriculture TerracesAgriculture terraces

The Maya agriculture engineers converted hilly and sloped areas into arable land using agricultural terraces. The terraces significantly increased the area for cultivation by altering the sloped hillside topography into stepped level configurations of terraces. Terrace systems utilized stone retaining walls that were backfilled with soil to be level with the top edge of the lower wall and extended the surface to the base of the uphill retaining wall. The “step down” system reduced the speed of the water runoff, reducing erosion and permitting the soil to capture water by allowing it to slowly percolate into the soil.