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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jul 31;109(31):12408-13. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1202881109. Epub 2012 Jul 16.

Water and sustainable land use at the ancient tropical city of Tikal, Guatemala.

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Departments of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45221, USA. Vernon.Scarborough@UC.Edu


The access to water and the engineered landscapes accommodating its collection and allocation are pivotal issues for assessing sustainability. Recent mapping, sediment coring, and formal excavation at Tikal, Guatemala, have markedly expanded our understanding of ancient Maya water and land use. Among the landscape and engineering feats identified are the largest ancient dam identified in the Maya area of Central America; the posited manner by which reservoir waters were released; construction of a cofferdam for dredging the largest reservoir at Tikal; the presence of ancient springs linked to the initial colonization of Tikal; the use of sand filtration to cleanse water entering reservoirs; a switching station that facilitated seasonal filling and release; and the deepest rock-cut canal segment in the Maya Lowlands. These engineering achievements were integrated into a system that sustained the urban complex through deep time, and they have implications for sustainable construction and use of water management systems in tropical forest settings worldwide.

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