Research Team at the Maya Site of Yaxnohcah Discovers Advanced Maya Resource Use

Researchers used genetic and pollen analyses at the Maya site of Yaxnohcah in the Yucatan (1000 BCE-200 CE) to date wild and cultivated plants there. A team from across North America 
collected and analyzed 38 soil samples, finding evidence of wild trees and plants growing near the city. 

The ancient Maya left much of the rainforest intact. But in other areas, researchers found evidence that the rainforest had given way to savanna dominated by pine trees that persisted for 1,000 years, perhaps from repeated slash-and-burn agriculture or from soil conducive to their growth.

Researchers also found a large diversity of plants the ancient Maya grew for food, fuel, medicine and construction, including maize, chili peppers, squash, manioc, and cotton. Along the city’s former stone-faced garden terraces, created to take advantage of rainfall, they discovered evidence of a wide variety of crops including avocados, hog plums, fruits called sapotes, matasanos and squash.

The study concluded that deforested parts of the rainforest quickly recovered, showing the resilience of the ecosystem over time. 

UC geography professor Nicholas Dunning said,  “The findings mirror those we found at Tikal and paint a picture of the ancient Maya as fairly conscientious forest managers. But we also found evidence of periods and places of environmental degradation in the form of accelerated soil erosion.”

Yaxnohcah was occupied for more than 2,000 years and no doubt faced intermittent natural disasters such as droughts or manmade ones like the depletion of resources that required resilience and creative solutions.

UC’s analysis also identified ancient paper and ink, which was used in a variety of Maya products, including clothing, adornments and ancient manuscripts known as a codex. 
The Maya used dyed paper cloth in adornments as well as in headpieces. They also used special paper in ceremonies, for example, to absorb blood, then burned as an offering to various gods.

The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. has the report here;