Exploring Mayan preclassic agricultural strategies and adaptabilities using ancient DNA

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Mikkel Winther Pedersen


DKK 425,000




Internationalisation Fellowships


The main objective of the proposed study is to investigate the emergence and growth of the agricultural economy in Maya lowlands from the earliest settlements in the early Middle Preclassic to the establishment of the state level society in the Late Preclassic. Despite intensive investigations, we still understand little of the early processes that led to the domestication and commodification of many cultigens, nor do we have a clear picture of the range of plants cultivated. Therefore, we will employ advanced analysis of ancient plant DNA extracted from two sources, macro botanical remains and sediments, recovered from early agricultural fields and nearby water storage features, to provide a detailed picture of the selection processes that shaped complex agriculture in the tropics.


For the importance of this project one could reword an old saying by Sir Charles Lyell and say that "the past is key to the future". This is very much true in the sense that the human kind are subdued to earth and its resources, of which we live by and on, and it is therefore important that we learn about previous ways, challenges and issues that have occurred. The Mayan culture was at its time one of the most successful populations and which lasted more than 3,000 years, during which they domesticated and cultivated a wide variety of crops. We wish to learn about their cultural practices, the crop and their farming strategies in order to understand more about their farming strategies and in order to discuss the future of our current food supply and farming strategies.


To obtain reliable results, we will couple eDNA metagenomes with classical paleo botanical studies for sedimentary deposits from two distinct types of features at Yaxnohcah, a densely populated Mayan region on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, namely the ancient fields in which the crops were grown and the sediments accumulated in the reservoirs, to identify ancient cultigens and reconstruct past agricultural systems.

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