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Mayan Forestry

August 27, 2009

The early Maya culture practiced forest conservation – and may have paid a heavy price when they stopped.


Early eco-consciousness. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Over a thousand years ago, the Mayan people of what’s now Guatemala practiced a kind of forest conservation. This according to University of Cincinnati paleo-ethno-botanist David Lentz. The evidence comes from giant beams of two-hundred-year-old virgin wood, found in 8th and 9th century temples. Lentz says that in order to reach that age, those trees must have been protected – from the surging population’s relentless demand for new farmland.

DAVID LENTZ (University of Cincinnati):
It could only have been done if they had said: okay, we’re not going to farm here. Because these trees were growing in the areas that had the most productive farmland.

The trees were finally cut down when a new leader ordered a big construction boom. Lentz says the many consequences of that clear-cutting may have hastened the Maya’s downfall. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.