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"Water Management and Landesque Capital in the Maya Lowlands: Twenty Years of Digging and Two Days of LiDAR"

man with curly hair portrait in front of ruins

Our understanding of Maya hydraulics and agroecosystems has entered a period of great dynamism with the rapid expansion of LiDAR imagery. The Soils and Geomorphology Lab at UT Austin in Geography acquired nearly 300 square km of LiDAR imagery that covers large areas of ancient Maya wetland fields and many reservoirs for the first time. The coverage indicates both wide-scale wetland canal and field systems, water management, and intensive, polycultural complexes of upland terraces and wetland fields. Over the last 15 years, we tested many such systems with excavations and multiple proxies for past formation and cultivation. But, the LiDAR imagery shows we studied only a small spatial sample of these systems. We present what we now know based on excavations from Lamanai to Sierra de Agua, and use the Li DAR​  imagery to outline our future plan to obtain a more geographically representative sample. Our goal here is to contextualize wetland agriculture and water management both diachronically and synchronically within Maya History.


Timothy Beach holds The C.B. Smith, Sr. Centennial Chair in United States - Mexico Relations #2 and directs the Soils and Geoarchaeology Lab in Geography at the University of Texas at Austin.  For twenty-one years, he taught at Georgetown University, where he held the Cinco Hermanos Chair and was Professor of Geography and Geoscience and Director of the STIA and Environmental Studies Programs. He has conducted field research on soils, geomorphology, paleoecology, wetlands, and geoarchaeology in the Corn Belt of the United States, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Syria, Turkey, Iceland, Colombia, Italy, and Germany funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, USAID, The University of Texas at Austin, and Georgetown University. These field seasons have been the bases for more than one hundred peer-reviewed articles and chapters and hundreds of scientific presentations around the world.  Most of his publications were on long-term environmental change, soils, paleoclimate, and geoarchaeology in the Maya world.  He was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and awarded Guggenheim and Dumbarton Oaks Fellowships, the G.K. Gilbert Award in Geomorphology, Georgetown University’s Distinguished Research Award in 2010, Georgetown's School of Foreign Service's Faculty of the Year for Teaching Excellence in 2014, and the Carl O Sauer Award in 2017.