The Interaction of Warfare and Agricultural Intensification

Project: Research project

Project Details


There is abundant archaeological research focused on understanding ancient Maya dynasties, conflicts between competing royal courts, and daily life ancient cities. But how did communities in the countryside experience vacillations between security and insecurity, resulting from alternating episodes of peace and conflict, and decades of climate stability followed by periods of drought? Drs. Charles Golden (Brandeis University), Andrew Scherer (Brown University), Timothy Murtha (University of Florida) together with colleagues in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, will address this fundamental question. To address this question they will focus on the relationships among climate warfare and agricultural intensification. The research will provide a first step towards understanding the entanglement (or lack thereof) between war and the agricultural economy in the western Maya lowlands, with implications for understanding human-environmental and political dynamics more broadly. The natural and cultural resources of the Usumacinta River Basin in which the research will take place and other areas of the neotropics are being devastated by looting, illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, and livestock management practices that can result in devastating wildfires in a landscape plagued in recent decades by drought. Understanding long-term uses of the landscape will help to address contemporary land use issues and assist in planning for sustainability.

This research continues the investigators efforts to enhance understandings of ancient Maya defensive features and warfare generally and represents a new attempt to identify the potential economic causes and consequences of war for the ancient Maya. The western Maya lowlands is an ideal case for the study of the relationship between social strife and agricultural production. With a robust epigraphic record and decades of archaeological fieldwork, the region hosted a diversity of polities in terms of their strategies of governance and socio-political integration. The proposed research will also advance understanding of ancient Maya agricultural systems. The study area is the wettest region of the Maya lowlands, where little work has considered agricultural dynamics over the long term. Such regional comparison is critical for synthetic statements about agricultural regimes that are often based on research conducted in the distinct ecological zones of the Central Peten, Belize, and northern Yucatan.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date6/1/195/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $177,504.00


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