Making our agricultural systems more sustainable is a challenge that demands creative and collaborative approaches. Anthropological archaeology can contribute to this effort by documenting long-term trajectories of human-environment interactions. This deep time perspective enhances understanding of the interconnected social and environmental dynamics underlying agricultural sustainability.
With this in mind, my research explores the deep history of interactions between Maya farming communities and their local environments. I use archaeological methods to investigate the material remains of past agricultural practices preserved in lands belonging to the modern Maya community of Yaxunah, Yucatán, Mexico. I work with Maya farmers and gardeners from Yaxunah to better understand the archaeological patterns of past Maya agroecosystems. By combining archaeology with historical, ethnographic, and ecological approaches, my research investigates how the landscape’s centuries-long agricultural history shapes the modern food systems of Yaxunah.
For my dissertation research, I investigated the past 2000 years of small-scale Maya farming communities and agricultural practices at the archaeological site of Tzacauil. Tzacauil is one of several pre-Hispanic archaeological sites located in the ejido (collective landholding) of the Yaxunah community. I directed archaeological excavation, soil chemistry analysis, and ethnographic work with Maya farmers and gardeners at Tzacauil over eight months between 2015 and 2017.
I'm excited to share the story of Tzacauil's agricultural history in my dissertation, Small-Scale Maya Farming Communities and the Long View of Sustainability at Tzacauil. In the meantime here are some images from our fieldwork at Tzacauil and other places in the Yaxunah ejido.
This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the US Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Program, and the University of Michigan. I have also been greatly supported by the Proyecto de Interacción Política del Centro de Yucatán (PIPCY) and its directors, Travis Stanton and Traci Ardren.
Taking measurements during excavations of a Late Formative (ca. AD 100-250) Tzacauil house group
Excavating a potential houselot or garden area in Tzacauil
The survey team of Yaxunah farmers, gardeners, and me in a recently burned archaeological site
A little bit of recon at an 18th-19th period hacienda in the Yaxunah ejido
Chelsea Fisher's research at Tzacauil has been funded with grants from the following institutions: