Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UC Research on Maya Village Uncovers ‘Invisible’ Crops, Unexpected Agriculture

The research on the well-preserved plant remains found in a Maya village that was destroyed by a volcano’s fury will be presented at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

The University of Cincinnati’s mastery of ancient Maya mysteries continues with new research from professor of biological sciences David Lentz.

UC faculty have been involved in multiple research projects concerning ancient Maya culture for more than a decade. This latest Maya study from Lentz focuses on Cerén, a farming village that was smothered under several meters of volcanic ash in the late sixth century.

Lentz will present his research, “The Lost World of the Zapotitan Valley: Cerén and its Paleoecological Context,” at the 78th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, held April 3-7 in Honolulu. More than 3,000 scientists from around the world attend the event to learn about research covering a broad range of topics and time periods.


Cerén, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Joya de Cerén, was discovered in El Salvador in the late 1970s when a governmental construction project unearthed what turned out to be ancient ceramic pottery and other clay structures. The initial archaeological excavation was directed by Payson Sheets, a faculty member at the University of Colorado and a friend of Lentz.

Cerén is sometimes called “the Pompeii of Central America,” and much like that doomed ancient Roman city, the wreckage of Cerén was remarkably well preserved by its volcanic burial shroud. So that bad news for the Cerén villagers became good news for archaeologists centuries later.

“What this meant for me, is this site had all these plant remains lying on the ground,” Lentz says. “Not only do we find these plant remains well preserved, but we find them where the people left them more than a thousand years ago, and that is really extraordinary.”

Lentz specializes in paleoethnobotany and oftentimes in his work – including at other Maya sites – he’s left to interpret complex meaning from splinters of charred wood and hard nut fragments. The Mayas’ tropical environment, which isn’t conducive to preserving plant remains, doesn’t make things any easier.

But the situation was different at Cerén. The village’s sudden and complete ruin sealed it under layers of preservative ash. So Lentz’s research there is still challenging but in an unfamiliar way.

“It was tricky because we kept encountering things we’d never encountered before at a Maya site,” Lentz says. “They were just invisible because of the lack of preservation.”


A few examples of what Lentz and his team have discovered at Cerén:

- They found tremendous quantities of a root crop (malanga, a relative of taro) that previously had not been associated with Maya agriculture. They found another “invisible” crop of manioc alongside the more anticipated fields of maize, and they found grasses no longer in existence on the modern-day El Salvador landscape.

- They made what is thought to be the first discovery of a Maya kitchen, complete with intensively planted household garden. “We could tell what was planted around the houses,” Lentz says. “This is fabulous because people have long debated how the Maya did all this. Now we have a real example.”

- They found a household with more than 70 ceramic pots, many used to store beans, peppers and other plant matter. Having that many vessels in one home was an unusual discovery for what is thought to be a small, farming village. Lentz likened it to having four or five sets of China in a typical American home.

- They found large plots of neatly rowed land, evidence of ridge and furrow agriculture. Lentz also posits that the people of Cerén surrounded their homes with orchard trees. These discoveries seemingly debunk the common theory that the Maya employed a slash-and-burn agriculture method.

- They found a raised, paved pathway called a “sacbe,” which was used by the Maya for ceremonial and commercial purposes. Lentz plans additional research on the sacbe to see what other significant discoveries could be made by following the path.


From these new discoveries come many lessons, a lot of them ecological. Lentz has studied how the Mayas effectively implemented systems of agriculture and arboriculture. He is intrigued by what made these methods successful, considering the Maya population was much denser than what exists on the modern landscape.

His findings at Cerén give him new pieces to plug into the Maya puzzle. Furthermore, they help us understand how humankind affects the natural world.

“Cerén is regarded internationally as one of the treasures of the world,” Lentz says. “What’s been found there gives you a real idea of what things were like in the past and how humans have modified things. I think what we’re learning there is revolutionizing our concept of the ancient past in Mesoamerica.”

Additional contributors to Lentz’s research paper were students Christine Hoffer (The Ohio State University) and Angela Hood (University of Cincinnati). Funding for the research was provided by multiple National Science Foundation grants.

Tom Robinette | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Archaeology Malanga Maya agriculture crops multiple research projects root crop

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht “How trees coexist” – new findings from biodiversity research published in Nature Communications
22.03.2018 | Technische Universität Dresden

nachricht Earlier flowering of modern winter wheat cultivars
20.03.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Modular safety concept increases flexibility in plant conversion

22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

New interactive map shows climate change everywhere in world

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>