Stable Carbon Isotope Evidence of Ancient Maize Cultivation on the Soils of Motul de San José

Elizabeth A. Webb and Henry P. Schwarcz

in Motul de San José

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780813041902
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780813043425 | DOI:
Stable Carbon Isotope Evidence of Ancient Maize Cultivation on the Soils of Motul de San José

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The ancient Maya of Motul de San José were supported by the development of an agricultural system that produced maize in addition to other fruits and vegetables. Agricultural residues from the maize crops may linger in the soil and be identified by their 13C-enriched carbon isotope signatures which are distinct from the isotopic compositions of the native vegetation which is the primary source of the soil organic matter. The naturally labeled 13C-enriched organic matter can be used to identify the regional extent of cultivation and soil types that were selected by the ancient Maya for maize agriculture. At Motul, an ancient 13C-enriched maize signal was observed in the humin fraction, while modern maize imparted 13C-enirched carbon to the humic acid fraction. An analysis of the humic and humin fractions from 15 soil profiles along a 2.5 km transect between Motul and the neighbouring settlement of Chäkokot revealed that ancient maize agriculture was primarily distributed around the neighbouring settlement rather than within Motul and there appears to be little correlation with either soil type or topographic slope. This may suggest that the distribution of agricultural fields was influenced by politics and population growth rather than soil fertility.

Keywords: Classic Maya; Archaeology; Soil studies; Stable isotope analysis; Agricultural systems

Chapter.  6078 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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