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Diversity in ancient Maya water management strategies and landscapes at Caracol, Belize, and Tikal, Guatemala

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The Classic Period Maya cities of Caracol and Tikal possessed unique urban morphologies of water management. In part, the built environment at each city reflects adaptations to the hydrology of their landscapes. Caracol exists in a rugged, hilly, and karst environment; its residents invested their landesque capital in constructing agricultural terraces and residential reservoirs. These features created Caracol's anthropogenic garden‐city landscape. This landscape was unified through a dendritic causeway system and the distributed nature of monumental nodes. The landscape of Tikal exhibits a lower slope, is generally smoother, and its residents invested in constructing a large and condensed site core along with their monumental reservoirs. Additionally, the people of Tikal invested in bajo margin agriculture. The differences in urban form and hydrology conditioned the resulting water management strategies employed by both cities; the resulting built environmental features are preserved in the archeological record. Because of its higher slopes, Caracol's landscape presents a greater hazard for soil erosion and faster rainfall runoff. Yet, the construction of distributed residential reservoirs and agricultural terraces acted to collect rainfall, increase soil saturation, and reduce this runoff. Tikal's landscape on the whole presents fewer hazards in terms of soil erosion but perhaps greater issues from torrential rainfall. Water management infrastructure at both cities reflects both their unique urban morphologies and environmental conditions. This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
Map of Caracol, Belize, and Tikal, Guatemala, including modern national boundaries and the site boundaries utilized in this research in addition to the monumental nodes and causeway systems at both cities
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A comparative map of curvature, and the derivative of slope for Caracol and Tikal. Higher curvatures result in greater erosion
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Topographic convergence index (TCI) also called the topographic wetness index (TWI) for Caracol and Tikal. This value indicates the expected saturation of water on a landscape
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A map of slope at Caracol and Tikal. Higher slopes result in greater erosion
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A comparison of geomorphons between Caracol and Tikal showing the distinct sets of landforms types present in each
[ Normal View | Magnified View ]

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Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
Engineering Water > Planning Water

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