The scientists have revealed how Maya lowlands, which were one of the most densely populated areas in the world during ancient Maya Classic period (250 – 900 AD), sustained its population.
The archaeologists have estimated that, even in places such as the southern Maya Mountains area of Belize where geographic and other environmental conditions could be assumed to have mitigated population growth, population density was estimated at approximately 300 persons per square kilometer at one time, Popular Archaeology reported.
Recent studies by a team of researchers from Cleveland State University, University of Nevada and the PaleoResearch Institute, along with Q”eqchi Maya bushmasters and Q”eqchi Maya traditional healers in the field, have shed new light on how they may have done it, and how they kept their people healthy.
By taking and analyzing soil samples and microscopic phytoliths from Classic Maya archaeological sites in Belize, coupled with ethnographic data drawn from living Maya groups, a team of researchers have discovered evidence that could reveal clues to a sustainable agricultural strategy used by them.
The team took into consideration soil samples from excavations conducted at three Classic Maya sites.
The study found that the excavated layers or strata from the terraces at Sahonak Tasar revealed a practice of intense cultivation that involved management and diversion of rich soil runoff from the higher elevations, and alternate growing, burning, and flooding, a technique that, while growing the needed plants, also enriched the soil.
They also revealed that the ancients were growing a myriad of both nutritional and medicinal plants within the same terraced area, in contrast to the mono-cropping, or single crop, model often cited in literature about Maya agricultural practices.
The study also suggested that the ancients grew and processed a variety of plants close to their homes (such as in household gardens) that were high in nutritional and medicinal value.