Agriculture in Highland Mexico:

Agriculture is crucial to the survival of the modern human race and has been since the advent of the earliest complex societies. Farming is one of the most effective ways to increase the amount of resources available to a civilization after exceeding the carrying capacity of the land. "In a succession of Prehispanic periods, the Olmec, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec peoples dominated various subregions of Mesoamerica. These peoples built cities, wrote books, and practiced astronomy, but above all they were farmers- distinguished by their development of intensive wetland agriculture, canal irrigation, and terracing." (Sluyter 557) The roots of agriculture are tied in with the earliest developed civilizations and the Aztec of central highland Mexico are no exception. “…Agriculture formed the basis of subsistence and commerce among city states and was central to the tribute extracted by the Aztec.” (Whitmore 407) The Aztec found new ways to capitalize on the varying types of farmable environment which surrounded them. The Aztec were famous for their agriculture and had three main types of agriculture: “Terraces, Chinampas and experimental gardens.”(Townsend 174-180).
The majority of the terraced agricultural systems in highland Mexico existed to the east of the Aztec city of Teotihuacan in an area known as the Mesa Central. “The Mesa Central is composed of broad, flat floored basins ringed by imposing volcanoes and broad slopes, many of which offered fertile soils for agriculture. Most of this area is above 1800m in elevation.” (Whitmore) The lack of precipitation at higher elevations combined with the frequent frosts limited crop production in these areas. “The upper Sierras remained in a forest, a source of wood and regulator of water. Below the forest line, rainfed terraced and semi-terraced cultivation dominated. Various forms of floodwater irrigation were pursued within ephemeral water courses and along lands adjacent to them, including edges of the basin’s floor into which the drainage emptied.”(Whitmore 408) The Aztec used many of the pre-existing aqueducts and terrace systems that were created by the Toltec ruler Netzahualcoyotl. “Netzahualcoyotl encouraged the construction of an extensive system of aqueducts to bring water from mountain springs to the towns and agricultural terraces.” (Townsend 176) Although the aqueducts aided somewhat to the agricultural process during the wet season they were fairly useless during the dry season, leaving the terraced farmland largely dependent on seasonal rain. Various systems of hydraulic engineering were used to supply water to terrace agriculture at other sites. Diversions of major rivers and small check dams in streams were common ways of flooding terraced farmland. “Large-scale irrigation projects were built. In the Northwest Valley of Mexico, the Cuauhtitlan River was diverted, and its channel was enlarged, widened and straightened with graded embankments. Water was then conducted through diversionary channels to flood a broad area of open fields.” (Townsend 178) Such serious means of diversion were not always necessary to achieve proper levels of moisture in agricultural terraces. “Michael Smith and his associates at village sites in the Valley of Morelos have yielded new evidence of agricultural terracing, with small-scale check dams built across stream-beds where the action of water would gradually level and widen a field suitable for farming.” (Townsend 178) Although the agricultural terraces were an effective means of crop production in on the many slopes and hillsides “On the basin’s floor proper, where poor drainage was common, various forms of wetland cultivation were adapted to the perihumid conditions.” (Whitmore 408)

The Aztec inhabited the city of Tenochtitlan, a massive civilization that was built on a lake in the basin of Mexico, just west of the Mesa Central,
Location of Chinampas in the Axtec Empire
Location of Chinampas in the Axtec Empire
and used what others would consider an extreme roadblock to their advantage. With very little farmable land available and an increasing population, “by the middle of the 15th century the city of Tenochtitlan supported a population between 150,000 and 200,000”, the Aztec did the only thing possible to increase the carrying capacity of the surrounding area. (Townsend 174) Small plots of land known as Chinampas were formed out of the lake onto which crops were planted. The word Chinampa comes from the Nahuatl word chināmitl, meaning "square made of canes". “Plots were constructed by taking out a long, narrow, rectangular enclosure approximately 30m in length by 2.5 m wide, into the swampy lakebed… Another plot was then constructed parallel to the first, leaving a narrow canal in between for the passage of canoes.”(Townsend 175) Willow trees were planted along the borders of the plots to stabilize them. As the dense root systems of the willows developed they became the outside walls of the Chinampa. The inside of the plot was filled with mud and decaying vegetation. This provided an excellent base soil that was augmented with human excrement as a fertilizer. (Townsend 175) The Chinampas were a very productive means of agriculture that "Jeffrey Parsons of the University of Michigan suggests provided one-half to two-thirds of the food consumed in Tenochtitlan." (Popper) “By the 16th century, Chinampas were part of a state-designed and controlled hydraulic system that included dikes and sluice gates controlling water level and quality in the southern parts of the lacustrine network.” (Whitmore 409) This method of agriculture was very advanced for the time. Hydroponic agriculture is only recently being incorporated into modern day technology and yet the Aztec were using a similar method thousands of years earlier. “Intensive wetland agriculture" goes by various names: raised fields, ridged fields, ditched fields, camellones, platform fields, Chinampas, island fields, island beds, drained fields, ditched/drained fields, channelized fields, and mounded fields (Denevan 1980b; Denevan and Turner 1974; Jacob 1992; Mathewson 1985; Vasey 1983). Whatever the name, this form of agriculture occurs in various contexts: along streams, in lake basins, and at springs. It likewise reflects various construction techniques: ditching into the natural surface, mounding above the natural surface, or both. But in all cases, and despite varying circumstances, its purpose seems to have been the same-to regulate soil moisture in the root zone and to maintain a nutrient sump in the canals which farmers periodically might apply to their field surfaces.”(Sluyter 557) Sluyter mentions the various means farmers used to maintain the proper moisture around the roots of the plants. The decaying vegetation in the canals also added nutrients to the water providing a very effective means of hydroponically delivering nutrients to the crops growing on the Chinampas. “…farmers took advantage of wetlands by adjusting the relative elevations of the root zone and the water table to maintain the degree of soil moisture most advantageous for crop growth.” (Sluyter 558)


The Aztec grew several main crops on Chinampas and the terraces in the surrounding landscape. The horticultural and agricultural knowledge of the Highland Mexico peoples aided significantly in the domestication of Maize. Virginia Popper of UCLA has been excavating a Chinampa site in central highland Mexico Ch-Az-195 which "is a small mound that lies approximately 1 km southeast of Xico Island and 1.8 km from the eastern shore of Lake Chalco." Popper documented her findings from Ch-Az-195 in her article Investigating Chinampa Farming: "My research uses plant remains excavated from an Early Aztec site (Ch-Az-195) to address the issue of the development of Chinampa agriculture and, more specifically, to address questions about the economy and land use..." (Popper) The Aztec were avid agriculturalists and grew many different types of plants: "Food plants include the major cultigens (maize, beans, squash, and chile), all of which are recorded as growing in Chinampas. Fruit trees are represented by the hard pits of Mexican cherry, Mexican hawthorn, and prickly pear. These generally grow on the Piedmont slopes ringing the lakes, although some may have grown on Xico Island."(Popper) There is substantial evidence that suggests the Aztec were very proficient horticulturalists; relying on plants not only for food, but also for medicine and enjoyment.
Knowledge of horticulture was not only beneficial for subsistence; the Aztec also cultivated gardens consisting of many varieties of plants, both for pleasure and experimentation. One such garden was documented in an account by Cortes when he was being held there: “Within the Orchard is a great square pool of fresh water, very well constructed, with sides of handsome masonry, around which runs a walk with a well-laid pavement of tiles, so wide that four persons can walk abreast on it… On the other side of the promenade toward the wall of the garden are hedges of lattice work made of cane, behind which are all sorts of plantations of trees and aromatic herbs. The pool contains many fish and different kinds of waterfowl.”(Townsend 180) There are several other Spanish accounts of the Aztec gardens. The Spanish descriptions provide invaluable insight into the horticultural lives of a lost people. One tremendous addition to modern knowledge of the Aztec’s agricultural and horticultural is The Badianus Manuscript; a manuscript herbal of the sixteenth century, written by an Aztec physician, and edited by Dr. Emily Walcott Emmart. The interpretation of the Badianus manuscript has provided great insight into the lives of the Aztec. It had long been known that, by the period of the Spanish conquest, gardening and medicinal botany in Mexico had reached a high degree of elaboration. The fact that the language of the Nahuas included several different names for different types of gardens shows that horticulture played a considerable part in their lives. Montezuma possessed gardens for flowers and medicinal herbs, in which, according to the chronicler, Cervantes de Salazar, he "did not allow any vegetables or fruit to be grown, saying that it was not kingly to cultivate plants for utility or profit in his pleasance.” (Arber 82)

Agriculture in highland Mexico was both unique and effective. The societies of highland Mexico were very advanced for their time and the types of agriculture they created and used reflect their complexity. The various agricultural forms that have been discussed are evidence of the persistence and adaptability of the peoples inhabiting highland Mexico. Agriculture in highland Mexico aided in the domestication of many species, most significantly maize, and led to many other developments in the Meso-Americas such as extensive irrigation networks for terraced farming. The Aztec perfected the intensive-wetland agriculture technique known as Chinampas farming, a predecessor to modern hydroponics, and used this method to create the majority of the food-crops consumed by the empire. The rulers of highland Mexico had experimental gardens with many varieties of plants that were used both for utility and for pleasure. Agriculture was more than just a means for subsistence for the peoples of highland Mexico; it was something they were passionate about.

Work Cited:
Arber, A. (1940). An Aztec Herbal. Nature, Volume 146, Issue 3690, pp. 81-83
Popper, V. (2000). Investigating Chinampa Farming. Backdirt, fall/winter.

Sluyter, A. (1994) Intensive Wetland Agriculture in Mesoamerica: Space, Time, and Form. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 84, No. 4, pp. 557-584.
Townsend, R. F. (2000). The Aztecs. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 174-180.
Whitmore, T. (1992) Landscapes of Cultivation in Mesoamerica on the Eve of the Conquest.
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 82, No. 3, pp. 407-409.




WIKI MODULES:

The Origins of Maize

There is substantial evidence that the domestication of maize occurred in central highland mexico at about 9,188 B.P. (95% confidence limits of 5,689–13,093 B.P.)(Matsuoka) Prior to these findings there was a belief that multiple domestications of the wild plant Teosinte formed the modern Maize plant we have today. After further research sources point to a single domestication of Maize around 5-13,000 B.P which coincides directly with the earliest known archaeological maize dated at 5400 b.p.(Piperno)



Aztec Agriculture

Agriculture is crucial to the survival of the human race and has been since the earliest complex societies. Farming is one of the most effective ways to increase the amount of resources available to a civilization after the carrying capacity of the land has been breached. The roots of agriculture are tied in with the earliest developed civilizations and the Aztec of central highland Mexico are no exception. Many would consider trying to build a city on a lake an extreme hindrance however, the Aztec found new ways to capitalize on the wetland environment which surrounded them. The Aztec were famous for their agriculture and had three main types of agriculture: “Chinampas, terraces and experimental gardens.”(Townsend)

Aztecempirelocation.png
Span of the Aztec empire.


earliest_maize.jpg
This is a photo of the "The two oldest maize cobs in the New World from Guilá Naquitz Cave." (Piperno). These early maize cobs provide valuable information in determining the progression of domesticated maize and eventually corn in the Americas.http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=29388 (Click image to access source)



This is a video narrated in spanish that shows many images of Chinampas and how they are formed.


This video shows a 3-D model of the basic formation of a chinampa.
The trees added at the end are Willows which develop roots and support the outside boundaries of the plot.


Chinampas

The Chinampas were a very effective means of food production and are proof that the Aztec were very innovative in their methods of agriculture. The Aztec inhabited the city of Tenochtitlan, a massive civilization that was built on a lake, and used what others would consider an extreme roadblock to their advantage. With very little farmable land available and an increasing population, “by the middle of the 15th century the city of Tenochtitlan supported a population between 150,000 and 200,000”, the Aztec did the only thing possible to increase the carrying capacity of the surrounding area.(Townsend) Small plots of land were formed out of the lake and on these plots crops were planted. “Plots were constructed by taking out a long, narrow, rectangular enclosure approximately 30m in length by 2.5 m wide, into the swampy lakebed… Another plot was then constructed parallel to the first, leaving a narrow canal in between for the passage of canoes.”(Townsend) Willow trees were planted along the borders of the plots to stabilize them. As the dense root systems of the willows developed they became the outside walls of the Chinampa. The inside of the plot was filled with mud and decaying vegetation. This provided an excellent base soil that was augmented with human excrement as a fertilizer. (Townsend) This method of agriculture was very advanced for the time. Hydroponic agriculture is only recently being incorporated into modern day technology and yet the Aztecs were using a similar method thousands of years earlier. The Aztec also built large terrace systems that were supplied water through extensive irrigation systems including check damns and aqueducts. (Townsend). The Aztec also cultivated gardens for pleasure and experimentation and had large gardens consisting of many varieties of plants. One such garden was documented in an account by Cortes when he was held there: “Within the Orchard is a great square pool of fresh water, very well constructed, with sides of handsome masonry, around which runs a walk with a well-laid pavement of tiles, so wide that four persons can walk abreast on it… On the other side of the promenade toward the wall of the garden are hedges of lattice work made of cane, behind which are all sorts of plantations of trees and aromatic herbs. The pool contains many fish and different kinds of waterfowl.”(Townsend)

external image x-zip.png Mayas in Campeche..kmz
This link shows a list of all the Mayan civilizations in the state of Campeche.
You can see the proximity of the locations and the possibile agricultural areas that surrounded them.

Sources:
http://www.pnas.org/content/99/9/6080.fu
Journal of Historical Geography: Volume 32, Issue 4, October 2006, Pages 689-711
Townsend, R. F. (2000). The Aztecs. London: Thames & Hudson.

Module 2:

Interest Paragraph:
I am interested in the unique characteristics that compose each individual culture and the peoples within them. I enjoy learning about anthropology because it is humbling. It reminds me that no culture is more important or more significant than any other and although some may make larger contributions to the society of the world they are still just one of many cultures that exist. Anthropology allows me to learn about different lifestyles and helps me to realize the faults and strengths in my own. Anthropology also allows me to remove myself from my own culture and see what aspects I appreciate and the ones I do not. Cultural Anthropology is my favorite of the subfields of anthropology however recently I have become interested in a specific area of cultural anthropology known as ethnobotany. I am fascinated by the way cultures use various plants and how they are viewed and accepted within each culture.


Module 8:

"The floodplains along the Nile constitute an important but as yet little utilized series of laboratories for the comparative study of the origins
and interaction of ancient civilizations."

Source:
Trigger, B. (1976) Kerma: The Rise of an African Civilization. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1. , pg. 1.



Module 9:

Variation in Prehistoric Agricultural Systems of the New World
Author(s): Ray T. Matheny and Deanne L. Gurr
Source: Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 12, (1983), pp. 79-103
Published by:
__Annual Reviews__
Stable URL: __http://www.jstor.org/stable/2155641__


Module 10:
__http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/ioa/backdirt/Fallwinter00/farming.html__

Type of Highland Mexico Agriculture: Chinampas Farming

One of the most famous forms of agriculture developed in Highland Mexico was Chinampas farming. The Aztec inhabited the city of Tenochtitlan, a massive civilization that was built on a lake, and used what others would consider an extreme roadblock to their advantage. With very ittle farmable land available and an increasing population, “by the middle of the 15th century the city of Tenochtitlan s upported a population between 150,000 and 200,000”, the Aztec did the only thing possible to inc rease the carrying capacity of the surrounding area. (Townsend 174) Small plots of land known as Chinampas were formed out of the lake onto which crops were planted. “Plots were constructed by taking out a long, narrow, rectangular enclosure approximately 30m in length by 2.5 m wide, into the swampy lakebed… Another plot was then constructed parallel to the first, leaving a narrow canal in between for the passage of canoes.”(Townsend) Willow trees were planted along the borders of the plots to stabilize them. As the dense root systems of the willows developed they became the outside walls of the Chinampa. The word Chinampa comes from the Nahuatl word chināmitl, meaning "square made of canes".The inside of the plot was filled with mud and decaying vegetation. This provided an excellent base soil that was augmented with human excrement as a fertilizer. (Townsend)

Sources:
Townsend, R. F. (2000). The Aztecs. London: Thames & Hudson.

Module 11:

One of the most famous forms of agriculture developed in Highland Mexico was Chinampas farming. The Aztec inhabited the city of Tenochtitlan, a massive civilization that was built on a lake, and used what others would consider an extreme roadblock to their advantage. With very ittle farmable land available and an increasing population, “by the middle of the 15th century the city of Tenochtitlan s upported a population between 150,000 and 200,000”, the Aztec did the only thing possible to inc rease the carrying capacity of the surrounding area. (Townsend 174) Small plots of land known as Chinampas were formed out of the lake onto which crops were planted. “Plots were constructed by taking out a long, narrow, rectangular enclosure approximately 30m in length by 2.5 m wide, into the swampy lakebed… Another plot was then constructed parallel to the first, leaving a narrow canal in between for the passage of canoes.”(Townsend) Willow trees were planted along the borders of the plots to stabilize them. As the dense root systems of the willows developed they became the outside walls of the Chinampa. The word Chinampa comes from the Nahuatl word chināmitl, meaning "square made of canes".The inside of the plot was filled with mud and decaying vegetation. This provided an excellent base soil that was augmented with human excrement as a fertilizer. (Townsend) Virginia Popper of UCLA has been excavating a Chinampa site in central highland mexico Ch-Az-195 which "is a small mound that lies approximately 1 km southeast of Xico Island and 1.8 km from the eastern shore of Lake Chalco." Popper documented her findings from Ch-Az-195 in her article Investigating Chinampa Farming: "My research uses plant remains excavated from an Early Aztec site (Ch-Az-195) to address the issue of the development of Chinampa agriculture and, more specifically, to address questions about the economy and land use..." (Popper) The Aztec were avid agriculturalists and grew many different types of plants: "Food plants include the major cultigens (maize, beans, squash, and chile),all of which are recorded as growing in Chinampas. The Chinampas were a very productive means of agriculutre that "Jeffrey Parsons of the Univ__l__
ersity of Michigan suggests provided one-half to two-thirds of the food consumed in Tenochtitlan." (Popper)

Source:
Popper, V. (2000). Investigating Chinampa Farming. Backdirt, fall/winter 00.
__http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/ioa/backdirt/Fallwinter00/farming.htm__





Module 12:

__http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/details?mid=8818d0cba84229dbb0799e308e971aff&prevstart=12__

teotihuacan- This 3-D model of the ancient Aztec city of Teotihuacan is a marvelous example depicting the city's extravagance and complexity.

__http://ucfant3145f09-06.wikispaces.com/file/view/Mayas+in+Campeche..kmz__

maya in campeche

Module 13:
Whitmore, T. (1992) Landscapes of Cultivation in Mesoamerica on the Eve of the Conquest. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 82, No. 3, pp. 407-409. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2563353

In this article Whitmore provides a very detailed account of pre-hispanic agricultural practices in various areas throughout coastal and highland Mexico. “…Agriculture formed the basis of subsistence and commerce among city states and was central to the tribute extracted by the Aztec.” (Whitmore 407) The article is composed eloquently and is a very pleasant read while still providing substantial amounts of useful information. Whitmore provides detailed accounts of Chinampa and terrace agriculture and the crops that were planted on them at the time of Spanish conquest. “By the 16th century, Chinampas were part of a state-designed and controlled hydraulic system that included dikes and sluice gates controlling water level and quality in the southern parts of the lacustrine network.” (Whitmore 409)
The majority of the terraced agricultural systems in highland Mexico existed to the east of the Aztec city of Teotihuacan in an area known as the Mesa Central. “The Mesa Central is composed of broad, flat floored basins ringed by imposing volcanoes and broad slopes, many of which offered fertile soils for agriculture. Most of this area is above 1800m in elevation.” (Whitmore) The lack of precipitation at higher elevations combined with the frequent frosts limited crop production in these areas. “The upper Sierras remained in a forest, a source of wood and regulator of water. Below the forest line, rainfed terraced and semi-terraced cultivation dominated. Various forms of floodwater irrigation were pursued within ephemeral water courses and along lands adjacent to them, including edges of the basin’s floor into which the drainage emptied. (Whitmore 408)

Module 14:
Sluyter, A. (1994) Intensive Wetland Agriculture in Mesoamerica: Space, Time, and Form. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 84, No. 4, pp. 557-584. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2564144

In this article Sluyter describes the Aztecs and the management of one of their most famous forms of agriculture: Chinampas. "In a succession of Prehispanic periods, the Olmec, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec peoples dominated various subregions of Mesoamerica. These peoples built cities, wrote books, and practiced astronomy, but above all they were farmers- distinguished by their development of intensive wetland agriculture, canal irrigation, and terracing." (Sluyter 557) “Intensive wetland agriculture" goes by various names: raised fields, ridged fields, ditched fields, camellones, platform fields, Chinampas, island fields, island beds, drained fields, ditched/drained fields, channelized fields, and mounded fields (Denevan 1980b; Denevan and Turner 1974; Jacob 1992; Mathewson 1985; Vasey 1983). Whatever the name, this form of agriculture occurs in various contexts: along streams, in lake basins, and at springs. It likewise reflects various construction techniques: ditching into the natural surface, mounding above the natural surface, or both. But in all cases, and despite varying circumstances, its purpose seems to have been the same-to regulate soil moisture in the root zone and to maintain a nutrient sump in the canals which farmers periodically might apply to their field surfaces.”(Sluyter 557) Sluyter mentions the various means farmers used to maintain the proper moisture around the roots of the plants. During the wet season the decaying vegetation in the canals also added nutrients to the water providing a very effective means of hydroponically delivering nutrients to the crops growing on the Chinampas. “…farmers took advantage of wetlands by adjusting the relative elevations of the root zone and the water table to maintain the degree of soil moisture most advantageous for crop growth.” (Sluyter 558)