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Sociopolitical organization, landscape change, and hydraulic engineering in the Teotihuacan Valley, Mexico: 1250 B.C.–A.D. 1810

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The Teotihuacan Valley has witnessed the rise and fall of various civilizations since it was first inhabited by sedentary societies 3,500 years ago. Given its location in a semi‐arid environment, Teotihuacan has featured prominently in debates about the role of water and water management in the development of sedentism, culture, primary states, and large, complex societies. While many previous discussions tended to echo Wittfogel's “hydraulic hypothesis,” focusing on the ability of an elite few to monopolize water resources, we instead turn to a growing corpus of research showing varied water management strategies through time potentially resulting in distinct patterns of social organization. In this palimpsest landscape hydraulic and agricultural strategies were constrained not merely by present environmental conditions, but also by very real and material legacies of previous behavior. We discuss the state of research regarding these adaptations (and social responses) to water scarcity from the Early‐to‐Middle Formative Period (1250–650 B.C.) through the independence of Mexico (A.D. 1810), noting how previous fundamental assumptions about agriculture and hydraulic management in the Teotihuacan Valley have led to a significant number of neglected concepts and potential adaptations. If we are to address the current destruction of the Teotihuacan Valley's ecological and cultural resources in response to national development and climate change, a historical‐ecological perspective is necessary to disentangle the relevant processes that have shaped the landscape—and the cultures residing within it—to this day. This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented Engineering Water > Planning Water
Map of the Basin of Mexico, showing relevant regional locations. Topographic data: INEGI (2012)
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The empty pools after a small summer squall in front of the main ejido offices in San Juan Teotihuacan
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Fountain in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Redeemer (former Cathedral of St. John the Baptist)—the last vestige of the springs in San Juan
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Chinampas in Xochimilco, Mexico City behind the gondola‐like trajineras in 2002
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Aerial view behind the Pyramid of the Moon, looking south along the Street of the Dead. Mejia Ramon and John (2017, 2018)
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Modern environment near an abandoned hacienda near Altica, with maguey in the foreground and nopal in the background
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Map of the Teotihuacan Valley, showing sites and areas mentioned in the text. Topographic data: INEGI (2012)
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Temperature in the Teotihuacan Valley during the mid‐twentieth century. Data: SMN (2016)
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Precipitation in the Teotihuacan Valley during the Mid‐Twentieth Century. Data: SMN (2016)
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