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Irrigated Agriculture at Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

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Abstract

The operational characteristics and functions of a pre-hispanic water management and terrace system, which comprises the primary feature of a unique archaeological site in the mountains just outside the southern extreme of the Valley of Oaxaca, are described and discussed.
... Literalmente fosilizado por la permanente acumulación de los minerales disueltos en el agua, la función que pudo tener tal complejo arquitectónico motivaría que desde la década de los sesenta y hasta 1987, distintos equipos de arqueólogos ofrecieran dos diferentes interpretaciones sobre su uso y construcción. Mientras que una primera propuesta hablaba de que el conjunto había sido edificado para la agricultura intensiva y que representaba un antiguo ejemplo de sistemas de cultivo por irrigación en Mesoamérica (Flannery et al. 1967;Flannery, 1973;Flannery y Marcus, 1983;Neely, 1967;Neely et al. 1990), una segunda idea plantearía que, más bien, aquellas plataformas habían sido construidas y utilizadas para la producción de sal por el método de evaporación solar (Hewitt et al. 1987;Winter, 1985Winter, , 1994. Si bien ambos estudios aportarían valiosa información del sitio arqueológico en general, sería hasta después del Proyecto Arqueológico Hierve el Agua (Flores, 2003) que nuevos conjuntos de datos mostrarían que dichas interpretaciones sobre la función de las terrazas y canales distaban de ser congruentes respecto a la información etnoarqueológica y de manera particular, de acuerdo con ciertas limitaciones hidrológicas intrínsecas a los manantiales. ...
... Alternando criterios ecológicos y culturales, los esquemas bosquejados serían confrontados mediante ejemplos etnográficos, así como con base en referencias etnohistóricas. En conjunto, el análisis de los datos junto con aquella otra información obtenida de los materiales arqueológicos recuperados (Flores, 2016) sustentaron ampliamente la revocación del modelo agrícola (Neely et al. 1990) que planteaba que el complejo de terrazas y canales construido en el área nuclear del asentamiento, y asociados a los manantiales minerales, habían sido utilizadas para la agricultura intensiva con irrigación. ...
... Al no existir un modelo único que logre explicar el desarrollo de la agricultura prehispánica en Mesoamérica, la alternativa metodológica para confrontar el modelo agrícola en Roaguía (Flannery et al. 1967;Neely et al. 1990), partió del estudio de las distintas estrategias agrícolas que, desde casos locales o regionales, aportasen referentes específicos sobre aquellas prácticas que los antiguos habitantes del lugar podrían haber implementado en los alrededores del complejo hidráulico de terrazas y canales. Integrando los resultados de los estudios biogeomorfológicos e hidrológicos (Flores, 2010) realizados en el sitio, y cotejando esta con toda aquella otra información obtenida mediante observaciones directas y entrevistas a los productores rurales del lugar (Flores, 2016) fue posible formular distintos modelos sobre los antiguos sistemas agrícolas susceptibles de haber sido instrumentados en las laderas montañosas de Roaguía. ...
... The extensive Quaternary travertine deposits and travertine-encrusted prehistoric irrigation canals indicate Ca-HC03 (as calcite) supersaturation in the past. Travertine is being deposited today at Hierve el Agua, another site of Prehispanic irrigation located farther south in the Sierra Madre del Sur in Oaxaca (Neely, 1967;Neely et al., 1990). There, Ca and HC03 concentrations are each four to seven times those in much of the Tehuacan valley today. ...
... Prehispanic water-management systems played an essential role in the rise of complex civilizations in the New World, as elsewhere (Wittfogel, 1957(Wittfogel, ,1972Doolittle, 1990: Caran andNeely, 1991;Neely and Wright, 1994). Throughout Mexico, the American Southwest, and South America, water resources were harnessed for irrigation beginning as early as -3150 yr B.P. (O'Brien et al., 1982;Andrews and Hammond, 1990;Doolittle, 1990;Neely et al., 1990;Winsborough et al., 19961. Some of the earliest complex systems were developed in the Tehuacan valley, where large-scale water management was well underway by perhaps 2750 yr B.P. and continues to the present . ...
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A filled prehistoric water well discovered at the village of San Marcos Necoxtla, Puebla, Mexico, may be the oldest directly dated water-management feature in the Americas. The ∼10 m stratigraphic section exposed at this remarkable site records 18,000+ yr of deposition, erosion, water-table and hydrochemical fluctuations, and ≥10,000 yr of continual occupation. Temporal control is afforded by a multicomponent cultural chronology and radiocarbon assays by conventional and experimental techniques. The ∼10 m wide, ∼5 m deep well was excavated, utilized, maintained, and filled with cultural material between
... Ancient travertine-lined water systems are found in only a few places, such as in Roman canals and aqueducts (e.g. Keenan-Jones et al., 2015) and prehispanic systems in Oaxaca and Morelos (Neely et al., 1990;Nichols et al., 2006). The tecuates consist of cemented and calcified carbonate mud interbedded with laminates ranging from thin organic films to diverse microbial mats containing diatoms, cyanobacteria, other algae, fungi, mosses, liverworts, calcium carbonate precipitates, detritus, and airborne particles including pollen and phytoliths ( Figure 2c). ...
Article
The travertine-lined irrigation canal networks of the Tehuacán Valley, Mexico allowed pre-Hispanic indigenous communities to overcome risks of crop failures in an arid setting. Segments of these systems are still in use today, therefore understanding when and how these irrigation networks functioned allows us to identify which attributes of a coupled socio-hydrological system are important for maintaining the long-term resilience of irrigation systems in drylands. This paper summarizes the results of an interdisciplinary study of this prehispanic irrigation network involving mapping, radiometric dating, and diatom analyses of materials extracted from the travertine lined canals. All of the canal networks were functioning by ca. 2000 BC, at the transition from the Late Archaic to the Formative period, which is before archeological evidence for widespread community-level aggregation. Provocatively, some canals are potentially as old as 6000–4000 BC, which would mean that hunter-gatherers initiated irrigation coevally with the introduction of semi-domesticated maize, a tropical species which would require supplemental water in this arid context. The canals both facilitated agricultural intensification and enhanced the distribution of aquatic ecosystems. The resilience of these systems to their unique spring dependent context demanded frequent maintenance and the integration of multiple canal networks to mitigate geohydrological vulnerabilities of reduced discharge. These conditions set up a long-term reciprocal dynamic between people and water in the Tehuacán Valley. The results demonstrate that rigidities inherent to tightly coupled socio-hydrological systems in dryland settings were overcome by institutional arrangements first developed by indigenous communities deep in prehistory.
... El tercer cambio en la tecnología es el empleo reciente de pozos profundos y bombeo para explotar los acuíferos subterráneos. Las prácticas prehispánicas de modificación del paisaje para el manejo del agua, no son exclusivas del Valle de Tehuacán, otros ejemplos han sido documentados en México (Neely et al., 1990). ...
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El Valle de Tehuacán es actualmente una de las áreas mejor estudiadas en México, conteniendo una de las secuencias culturales más amplias y uno de los complejos tecnológicos más diversi-ficados de control del agua registrados en América. Aquí se presenta un panorama general de los elementos prehispánicos de manejo del agua con una discusión sobre su significado. Aunque las evidencias más tempranas aparecen hacia 7900 a.C., la mayoría de estos elementos de control tempranos datan alrededor de 1000 a.C. Estos sistemas tienen una amplia distribución al final del periodo Formativo (ca. 100 a.C.). El origen de la tecnología de control del agua y su inno-vación y/o difusión son problemas que aún no tienen respuesta adecuada en tanto no se reporten más elementos arqueológicos, se refinen las secuencias cronológicas y se realicen reconocimien-tos arqueológicos más amplios en todo México. Las modificaciones del paisaje resultantes de esta tecnología parecen ser extensivas y duraderas. Presentamos una breve discusión de los aspectos de control del agua relativa a su uso doméstico, así como su relación con el cultivo de plantas silvestres y domesticadas. También examinamos brevemente las condiciones socio-políticas y los modelos teóricos relacionados con estos sistemas, considerando su impacto en las poblaciones actuales del Valle de Tehuacán. The Tehuacan Valley is currently one of the best-studied areas in Mexico and contains one of the longest continuums and most diverse arrays of prehistoric water management technology recorded in the New World. An overview of the prehistoric water management features and systems of the Tehuacan Valley is presented and their significance is briefly discussed. While the earliest water management feature appears at ca. 7900 BC, the majority of the earliest features are dated to the ca. 1000 BC period. Most types of water management phenomena are seen to have wide distribution by the end of the Formative Period (ca. AD 100). Until more features are reported, chronological controls are refined, and broader geographic survey is conducted throughout Mexico, the questions of water management technology origins and innovation versus diffusion remain unanswered. Landscape modifications resulting from water management are seen to be extensive and long lasting. A brief discussion of aspects of water management relative to domestic uses as well as the cultivation of semi-domesticated and wild plants is presented. Socio-political conditions and related theoretical models involved with prehistoric water management are briefly examined. The contributions of water management studies to the current population of the Tehuacan Valley are considered., inah. El estudio sobre el manejo del agua en el Valle de Tehuacán ha sido posible a través de los permisos amablemente otorgados por el Consejo de Arqueología del inah, y la colaboración permanente con esta institución. Desde 1964, y sobre todo a partir de partir de 2000, han contribuido al estudio del manejo del agua en el Valle de Tehuacán las siguientes personas: Michael J. Aiuvalasit, S. Christopher Caran, Linda S. Cummings, Marco Fragoso Fragoso, Raúl Hernández Garciadiego, Francisca Ramírez Sorensen, Carlos Rincón Mautner y Barbara M. Winsborough. Queremos expresar nuestra gratitud a los habitantes de la gran región de Tehuacán, por su amabilidad y disposición para compartirnos su conocimiento de la tierra y el manejo del agua. El trabajo de campo no hubiera sido posible sin el apoyo económico de
... Additional investigations in the Tehuacan valley have refined the culturally-based dating of these canals (Neely 1995a, 199513;Neely et al., 1995b). A number of studies employing similar methods have been completed elsewhere, including an early irrigation site in Oaxaca, Mexico (Neely, 1990;Neely et al., 1990). ...
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A methodology for radiocarbon dating of calcified microbial mats has been developed and successfully applied in establishing a preliminary chronology for the prehistoric carbonate-encrusted canals of the Tehuacán Valley of Puebla, Mexico. In contrast to traditional carbonate dating techniques, this method focuses on the organic carbon component of the calcareous sediments. This method is based on the assumptions that (1) the carbon being dated is derived from the organisms associated with travertine buildup on canals, (2) these organisms are incorporated into the travertine contemporaneous with calcite precipitation, and (3) this carbon is then sequestered from most subsequent contamination and secondary fractionation. Evidence supporting these assumptions includes δ13C values, cultural chronologies, and stratigraphic relationships consistent with expectations. © 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
... The diversion of both the intermittent drainage and spring water into canals may well have been accomplished by the use of simple diversion dams or weirs. However, it is also entirely possible that the natural drainages coming from the hills and spring vents may have been modified into small canals so that they directly supplied the system (cf., Neely 2005aNeely , 2005bNeely et al. 1990;Woodbury and Neely 1972). ...
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The nature of the Deh Luran gristmill system is described, and archaeological and ethnohistorical observations provide insights into ancient rural technology, economics, and socio-politics. Optically Scanned Luminescence, ceramics, and other archaeological associations, date the Deh Luran gristmills to the Sasanian period (A.D. 225–700). A Middle East/Mediterranean origin as early as 250 B.C. is suggested for the drop-tower side-shot water wheel technology used.The Deh Luran gristmill technology was well adapted to the topography and limited, variable water supply. Currently farmed lands, and their productivity, are found to be far less than projected grain surpluses for an expanding Sasanian Empire in Deh Luran. Population estimates based on gristmill productivity contradict those from archaeological data. Data suggest that Deh Luran, and similar rural areas, were relatively autonomous.
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relative time period: Follows the Highland Mesoamerican Archaic and precedes the Late Highland Mesoamerican Preclassic.
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Archaeological research in the Valley of Oaxaca has shown that the Late/Terminal Formative period (500 B.C.-A.D. 200) was a time of dramatic social change, perhaps culminating in the formation of the first state polity in the Americas (Blanton 1978; Blanton et al. 1982; Flannery and Marcus 1983a; Kowalewski et al. 1989; Winter 1989). This period began about 500 B.C. with the founding of the political center of Monte Albán located on a previously unoccupied ridgetop, 300–400 m above the valley floor where the three arms of the Valley of Oaxaca intersect (Figure 1). The size, architectural complexity, and political importance of the site increased rapidly through the Late/Terminal Formative (Acosta 1965:814–824; Blanton 1978:33–56; Flannery 1983a). While there has been debate on the precise timing of the emergence of a state polity at Monte Albán (e.g., Flannery and Marcus 1983a; Sanders and Nichols 1988), there can be no doubt that the Late/Terminal Formative was a tumultuous period marked by the emergence of many of the features that have traditionaly been used to define the state (Blanton 1978:33–56; Blanton et al. 1982:37–84; Flannery and Marcus 1983a; Kowalewski et al. 1989:85–200; Spencer 1982:12–31).
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Significant advances in our understanding of ancient agricultural practices in the Americas have been made in recent years. This review of the literature focuses on studies published between 1987 and early 1994. Issues pertaining to the transition from foraging to farming include the habitability of the American tropics prior to the development of agriculture, theories on plant domestication and the origins of agriculture, regional syntheses of agricultural development, and the origin, evolution, and dissemination of domesticates in the Americas. Other topics reviewed include new techniques that have recently been applied to the study of prehistoric agriculture in the Americas, various approaches to the study of agricultural change, and ways in which research on ancient agricultural practices is being applied in modern experimental agriculture and rural development projects.
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