Water is essential to life, and nowhere is that truer then when it comes to human civilizations. Now, scientists have made some new discoveries into how the ancient Maya civilization conserved water.
The Maya lived across Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. These locations, though, are known for having very little rainfall for seven months out of the year. This meant that the storage and conservation of water was crucial to help these civilizations thrive.
In this latest study, researchers used a surveying technology called LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) in addition to excavation data. This allowed them to examine the spatial characteristics and cultural modifications of residential-scale water tanks that were used by the Maya in the ancient past.
LiDAR is extremely useful when it comes to investigating hidden features. It's a remote sensing technology that collects high-resolution imagery that's shot from an airplane at 30,000 points per second. This allows researchers to map ground surfaces through dense vegetation.
In this case, researchers examined Yaxnohcah, which is a Maya site in the Central Yucatan. This revealed more than 100 potential small reservoirs scattered throughout the site, even though only five have been investigated so far.
"We looked specifically at small depressions that were adjacent to residential structures, and we could assume they were household accessible," said Jeffrey Brewer, one of the researchers involved in the new study. "We found modified reservoirs, a limestone quarry that would have served as a resultant water tank, and a depression that appears to have served as an area for localized horticulture or agriculture."
From examining the ceramic material that was used in some of the residential-scale reservoirs, researchers found that they were likely used around 900 B.C. It's likely that the systems were lined with a thick, clay "plaster" that allowed the areas to hold the water instead of seeping away.
Currently, researchers hope to further examine these areas to figure out how the water features were used for agricultural purposes. If the reservoir was elevated, it likely could have released water into agricultural fields for irrigation. If it was lower, it could have collected runoff from a paved surface or field.
The findings reveal a bit more about this ancient civilization, which may tell scientists a bit more about how the Maya lived.
The findings were presented at the 81st annual meeting of the Society of American Archaeology.