NSF grants $ 250,000 to study ancient agriculture in south-central Veracruz

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Wesley stoner

The National Science Foundation has awarded just over $ 250,000 over four years to study ancient agriculture in south-central Veracruz, Mexico.

This region presents a complete cycle of development from the intensification of agricultural infrastructures until their final failure. As such, this is an opportunity to learn what combination of factors and stresses contributed to its downfall – and perhaps to gain insight into modern agriculture and the potential impacts of climate change on this. coastal region.

Wesley Stoner, associate professor of anthropology at the U of A, will be a co-principal investigator with Amber VanDerwarker, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Their work will focus on agricultural intensification and settlement trends in the Tlalixcoyan basin, which finally collapsed in AD 800 after centuries of cooperative success.

Anthropologists will target an area of ​​150 square kilometers of elevated fields along the coastal plains of Veracruz that flourished between 200 and 800 CE.

At the heart of this population growth was the development of agricultural techniques which included creating a network of drainage canals through wetlands and moving fertile soil to raised planting platforms. This required a cooperative relationship between farmers and government institutions which finally dissolved after six centuries. While researchers have theories as to why agricultural cooperation stopped, they hope to get a more accurate picture of the region’s rise and fall.

Noting the general challenges faced by farmers of all ages, Stoner and VanDerwarker wrote: “The social and environmental conditions of agriculture are continually changing due to climate variability, erosion, loss of soil fertility and the willingness of individual farmers to cooperate both with each other and with government institutions. . These uncertainties, which have plagued all agricultural societies since the first domestic animals, cannot be easily predicted in the future, so we turn to the long-term approach of archeology.

The project will include students and faculty from the United States and Mexico, as well as a multidisciplinary approach, including the use of excavation and field studies, botanical and chemical analysis, the study of carrots from paleoenvironmental sediments and the use of satellite and aerial remote sensing images. .

Ultimately, Stoner and VanDerwarker hope to better understand a complex set of overlapping elements, including soil fertility, crop selection, differences in household diets between wealthier and less affluent families, construction techniques and timeframes for the construction of raised agricultural platforms, and the effects of climate change over time. By obtaining a holistic view of the social, political, religious and environmental factors that led to an unprecedented agricultural system, they hope to uncover the reasons why such successful collective action has ceased.

Stoner, who has been researching Mexico for nearly 20 years, will spend the next three to four summers working on this project. Regarding his attraction to the area, Stoner said, “I have worked in this area for a long time. I love the Jarocho culture, the food and the music. I made a lot of good friends and colleagues there. While I have carried out projects in other parts of Mexico and North America, the Gulf Coast of Veracruz continues to call me.

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