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Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
The Classic Maya (c. 250-900 CE) subsisted as agriculturalists for over 4,000 years without destroying their environment. They accomplished this feat largely due to their inclusive, non-anthropocentric worldview where they were one with world rather than one with nature. This worldview impacted how the Maya engaged with the environment, including sacred places. Openings in the earth, such as caves and water bodies, are portals to the underworld where the Maya communed with gods and ancestors and prayed for rain. Some portals demanded pilgrimages, either yearly or for specific reasons, such as during a severe drought. Cara Blanca, Belize, is one such pilgrimage destination. It has 25 water bodies and nearby fertile soils. At one particular cenote (a steep-sided sinkhole filled by groundwater) over 60 meters (over 200 feet) deep, the Maya built a water temple and other ceremonial buildings, but not houses. Nor did they plant crops—even during the period between 800 and 900 CE when multiple, prolonged droughts struck the Maya area. Consequently, there is a minimal human footprint, even though resources are plentiful. Flora and fauna thus flourished. I argue that this type of engagement is a type of conservation—one that we can still apply today.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):
Lucero, Lisa J. 2018 A Cosmology of Conservation in the Ancient Maya World. Journal of Anthropological Research 74(3):327-359.
Lucero, Lisa J., and Andrew Kinkella 2015 Pilgrimage to the Edge of the Watery Underworld: An Ancient Maya Water Temple at Cara Blanca, Belize. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 25(1):163-185.
Lucero, Lisa J., and Jesann Gonzalez Cruz 2020 Reconceptualizing Urbanism: Insights from Maya Cosmology. Special Topic, ‘Reciprocal Impacts: Human Behavior and Urban Resilience,’ Frontiers in Sustainable Cities: Urban Resource Management. 2:1. doi: 10.3389/frsc.2020.00001.