Paleoclimatic Reconstruction and Archaeological Investigation at Xcoch, Puuc Region of Yucatan, Mexico: Exploratory Research into Arctic Climate Change and Maya Culture Process
Zubrow, Ezra B. Principal Investigator
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This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5). This research project investigates climatic change from a global perspective through archaeological excavation and survey in the Puuc region of Yucatan, Mexico and at the Maya center of Xcoch. Climate change in the Arctic is not just a contemporary phenomenon, such change had social and cultural consequences for many past human societies far from northern Polar Regions, including the Maya lowlands. Changing climate facilitated Norse colonization of the North Atlantic Islands during the Medieval Warm Period (AD 800-1300). At about the same time, the Maya of Yucatan, Mexico, were experiencing disruptions to rainfall patterns leading to sustained periods of drought. How Arctic climate change affected processes of cultural development and decline in the North Atlantic and Maya Lowlands has the potential to inform us today regarding the far reaching and serious cultural-environmental impact of global climate change. Climate data from places like the Puuc region, characterized as a semi-arid tropical climate and dry forest vegetation that suffers from a long precarious dry season, has the potential to inform us about the complex effects that Arctic climate change had and has on the global climate system. Climate change has long been seen as a major factor in the decline of ancient Maya civilization. Cycles of drought affecting agriculture and available drinking water in particular are believed to have being critical in the phenomenon known as the Classic Maya collapse beginning around the 9th century AD. The site of Xcoch is uniquely suited for climatic change research because it had a long occupation but experienced significant depopulations by the 9th century, contains a deep cave to a permanent water source, and there are many ponding features (aguadas); all these factors give Xcoch the potential to provide long-term paleoclimatic information. The nearby centers of Uxmal, Muluch Tzekel, and Xuch also contain aguadas and there are several other deep caves in the region that will be tested. This work is largely based upon new, untested ideas and has never been tried in the Yucatan but involves new approaches, requires diverse expertise, and engages interdisciplinary perspectives. Survey and excavation at Xcoch will resume in 2009 when multidisciplinary climate change data will be collected, analyzed, and compared with northern data. This research engages the Arctic community because it is becoming increasingly apparent that Arctic climate changes have global culture-environmental impacts. In order to fully understand what those impacts are, interdisciplinary and cross regional investigations, such as the proposed project, need to take place both in the north and in the south engaging the scientific community in a global discussion. The data that the PI expects to uncover at Xcoch will be added to this ongoing discussion with northern scientists. This research is viewed as potentially transformational, connecting what up to this point have been primarily regionalized archaeological research on the affects of climate change on local social and cultural systems, the Xcoch project will attempt globalize this research by connecting the north with the south.