Monday, 10 July 2006

Evidence for “Black Earths” in the Maya Lowlands.

Richard E. Terry1, Ryan Sweetwood1, Chris Balzotti1, and Timothy Beach2. (1) Brigham Young Univ, Dept of Plant and Animal Sci., Provo, UT 84602, (2) Georgetown Univ, Intercultural Center, Washington, DC 20057

Many of the soils on the vast karst plain of Central America's Yucatan Peninsula are shallow, red-colored Ustalfs known locally as kancab. However, in ancient Maya cities, satellite rural sites, and some other rural sites the soils are very dark, organic rich Ustolls known as boxluum. Indeed, contemporary Maya farmers still preferentially farm these areas. Other soils associated with many of the archaeological sites such as Piedras Negras, Aguateca, Motul de San Jose, and Tikal in the Peten region of northern Guatemala are dark colored Rendolls referred to as luum. Ancient agricultural activities have been associated with these dark soils. Our objective is to compare a robust sample of these Maya anthrosols with the criteria scientists have used to define Amazonian Black Earths to understand their similarities and differences. Specifically, we compare cultural, chemical, and chronological evidence of soil formation to answer such questions as do these soils have more macro and micronutrients (i.e., P, K, Ca, Mg), are they more enriched in black carbon, can we date their use, and were these soils intentionally fertilized for intensive agriculture? Unlike Amazonia, many soils of the Maya Lowlands are already black Mollisols. Hence, have we overlooked a large expanse of Black Earth-like anthrosols because they do not stand out like those of the Amazon?

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