Zooarchaeological Habitat Analysis of Ancient Maya Landscape Changes
Emery, Kitty F
Thornton, Erin Kennedy
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Consensus has not yet been reached regarding the role of human-caused environmental change in the history of Classic Maya civilization. On one side of the debate, researchers argue that growing populations and agricultural expansion resulted in environmental over-exploitation that contributed to societal collapse. Researchers on the other side of the debate propose more gradual environmental change resulting from intentional and sustainable landscape management practices. In this study, we use zooarchaeological data from 23 archaeological sites in 11 inland drainage systems to evaluate the hypothesis of reduction of forest cover due to anthropogenic activities across the temporal and spatial span of the ancient Maya world. Habitat fidelity statistics derived from zooarchaeological data are presented as a proxy for the abundance of various habitat types across the landscape. The results of this analysis do not support a model of extensive land clearance and instead suggest considerable chronological and regional stability in the presence of animals from both mature and secondary forest habitats. Despite relative stability, some chronological variation in land cover was observed, but the variation does not fit expected patterns of increased forest disturbance during periods of greatest population expansion. These findings indicate a complex relationship between the ancient Maya and the forested landscape.