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

By Thomas W. Killion | Go to book overview

CHAPTERS 5 SUSAN T. EVANS
The Productivity of Maguey Terrace Agriculture in Central Mexico During the Aztec Period

CARL O. SAUER once wrote that maguey permitted settled life in the and central highlands of Mexico. Where no other water or food is available, maguey (agave, century plant; Agave atrovirens and others) thrives and sustains human life, and beyond this subsistence role the plant provides medicine, fiber, building material, fuel, and even fertilizer from its ashes. Maguey cultivators in the Basin of Mexico during the Late Postclassic period (or Late Horizon, ca . A.D. 1150 to 1521) pioneered the more agriculturally marginal parts of the environment (such as the sloping piedmont zone around the alluvial plain) with a land-use strategy involving terraced interplantings of maguey and grain over the hillsides of their villages. Probably established in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, these villages covered the piedmont of the Teotihuacan Valley, Texcoco piedmont, and similar areas of the Basin of Mexico by the time of Spanish conquest. Archaeological and ethnographic evidence permits us to reconstruct maguey's contribution to the caloric needs of the maguey farmers and to apply this productivity value to an archaeological case, the Aztec period village of Cihuatecpan in the Teotihuacan Valley.1 This reconstruction is based on modern maguey yields and ancient settlement patterns.

The resulting model of Cihuatecpan's caloric requirements and productivity demonstrates the village's adaptive success in using this

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