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Digging for secrets of Maya gardeners

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Kate Leonard.
Kate Leonard.

For the ancient Maya farmers, the shallow soil of the limestone-laden peninsula presented a challenge. Kate Leonard, a young Canadian archaeologist, has been part of a team in the middle of the peninsula determined to learn more about the ancient farming techniques that sustained a civilization.

The existence of rejolladas made growing crops possible.

“A rejollada is a large circular sinkhole in the natural limestone bedrock that often contains deep moist soil,” Leonard tells Popular Archaeology.  “They’re actually quite large.”

Leonard was digging in the village of Tahcabo, south of Tizimín, where numerous rejolladas and two large cenotes made life easier for the ancient Maya. Until last month, she was part of an excavation team studying Maya horticultural practices that took place when the Spaniards arrived.

A 2x2m excavation underway in a rejollada. Photo courtesy Kate Leonard via Popular Archaeology
A 2x2m excavation underway in a rejollada. Photo courtesy Kate Leonard via Popular Archaeology

The team is made up of the Proyecto Arqueológico Colaborativo del Oriente de Yucatán (PACOY) Project working under Dr. Patricia A. McAnany of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, along with InHerit, and Dr. Iván Batún Alpuche of the Universidad del Oriente in Valladolid and the State Archives of the Yucatán.

“The rejolladas located in Tahcabo itself are still used for gardening, for making earth ovens (píib) and for conducting the Ch’a’ Cháak rain ceremony. There are usually chickens wandering through and there could be vegetables growing, tree crops, animals, or some other activity taking place,” says Leonard. Two rejolladas have been completely excavated and another one started, including the surface excavation of a nearby abandoned settlement.

Leonard has since moved on, pursuing an ambitious global project she hatched on her own to volunteer her knowledge and skills to work at 12 projects in 12 countries in 12 months. Tahcabo is her fourth stop on a globe-trotting worldwide archaeology project called Global Archaeology: A Year of Digs. 

Read more at Popular Archaeology, which will be following her progress.

Help Leonard out on her GoFundMe page.

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