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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Prehispanic Westland agriculture south of Laguna Mandinga, Veracruz, Mexico : testing postulations of water management and agricultural intensification Heimo, Maija


Prehispanic planting platforms and canals were examined across a set of transects in the Mandinga wetland in Central Veracruz, Mexico. In this relatively large complex of vestiges of ancient wetland agriculture, it was possible to test various propositions regarding water sources, degree and means of water control, and purpose of canals and platforms. The field investigation focussed on hydrological dynamics, what water management practices were attained, and whether the purpose of canals changed over time. The findings were used as indications of the process and strategies of agricultural intensification. Original and abandoned elevations of canals and platforms were established using soil stratigraphic data from cores and with corroborating data from pollen analysis; chronology was attempted by radiocarbon dating. The results show that initially water from seasonal inundation and possibly springs was stored within the wetland. Retention of water could have been realized by enhancing existing depressions, creating reversed gradients in the canals, and utilizing small dams. These multiple management strategies facilitated cultivation in a dynamic hydrological regime, however, with time, uneven sedimentation in the wetland changed the preconditions for these strategies. Consequently, the testing suggests that models of water management need to incorporate flexibility and complexity, thereby increasing their capacity to explain relationships and incorporate variations. In Mandinga the hydrological complexity and variations seem to have prevented the reaping of a high yield from all platforms in every year, indicating that the intensity of the production system did not reside in high outputs. Instead, the strength seems to have been in the flexible management practices. When combined with other productive activities, wetland agriculture represented one component in an intensification process that was based on multiple strategies.

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