Study Reveals Water Conservation Efforts Of Ancient Cultures
April 10, 2013

Study Reveals Water Conservation Efforts Of Ancient Cultures

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

New research at the ancient Maya site of Medicinal Trail in northwestern Belize led by Jeffrey Brewer, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati´s Department of Geography (ArtSci), has revealed how populations in more remote areas built reservoirs to conserve water and turned to nature to purify their water supply. Brewer will present his findings on the hydrology of these hinterland societies this week at the Association of American Geographers´ (AAG) annual meeting.

The new study is a continuation of a UC exploration of the ancient Maya civilization that has spanned decades. Primarily occupied during the Classical Period — AD 250 to 900 — the site of Brewer's research functioned as a rural architectural community. It was a suburb, basically, of the major ancient Maya site of La Milpa.

This smaller, more remote settlement lacks the monumental architecture and population density associated with the major Maya sites, according to Brewer. It does, however, show similar, smaller-scale slopes, artificially created terraces and water reservoirs that would have been used for farming and water management.

The artificial reservoirs are topographical depressions, or aguadas, that were lined with clay to create a watertight basin. Brewer says that these basins further our understanding of how the Maya conserved water from the heavy rain season that runs from December through spring. The ability to conserve this water allowed them to survive the extreme dry spells that stretched from summer to winter.

“They also controlled the vegetation directly around these reservoirs at this hinterland settlement,” says Brewer. “The types of lily pads and water-borne plants found within these basins helped naturally purify the water. They knew this, and they managed the vegetation by these water sources that were used for six months when there was virtually no rainfall.”

According to Brewer's research, without this purification system the smaller, more remote settlement would have been dependent on the larger Maya sites that ran a larger water conservation system.

Brewer has been conducting research at the site since 2006. Two years of his research consisted of intensive surveying and mapping of the region. The completion of computerized mapping of up to 2,000 points of topography — distances and elevations of the region in relation to water sources, population and structures — will be the focus of future research. Brewer also plans to continue exploring the construction and management of the hinterland water systems to gain a better understanding of what knowledge about them might have passed back and forth between settlements.