Gardens of Prehistory: The Archaeology of Settlement Agriculture in Greater Mesoamerica

By Thomas W. Killion | Go to book overview

fields that are fertilized with the ashes and residue of previous crops, green manure from weeding during cultivation, and sheep dung. Animals are penned in small corrals that are regularly moved over the field surface during fallow periods lasting up to two years. Hamlets and isolated farmsteads are sometimes found scattered among the highly productive llano and pajonal parcels, which, being more closely located to settlements, are considered the most desirable class of land and are often also terraced. Most residences, however, are found inside the innermost portion of the infield zone where rastrajo (cornstalk land) cultivation is practiced.

Rastrajo parcels, located directly adjacent to or within settlements, represent some of the most highly productive land cultivated by Maya farmers in the region. These plots are cultivated year after year without rest and receive constant inputs of fertilizer in the form of crop residues, green manure, animal manure, and all categories of organic household waste. In most settlements maize fields spread out between dwellings, filling up all the spaces between residences except for a small clear area or patio directly adjacent to the living structure. The more land devoted to rastrajo cultivation, the more dispersed the settlement. While areally the smallest component of the agricultural system in most communities, rastrajo receives as much or more labor input as any other component of the overall agricultural strategy and represents the most staple-oriented form of settlement agriculture discussed thus far.2


CONCLUDING REMARKS

Settlement and agricultural systems observed historically and ethnographically in Mesoamerica reveal considerable variation in crops utilized, land-use practices, and the spatial organization of field and residence. Basic human dietary needs require the sustained production of one or more staples in all agricultural systems; in Mesoamerica maize and, to a lesser extent, root crops have provided the bulk of carbohydrate inputs to subsistence. Protein needs are generally achieved on the basis of the favorable amino-acid complementation of maize and beans that are grown and consumed together throughout all areas of

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