Maya utilization of karst groundwater resources

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Environmental Geology and Water Sciences


George Veni


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Much of the Maya civilization in pre-Columbian Meso-America was established on karst terrain that included parts of what are now Belize, Guatemala, northern Honduras and southern Mexico. By definition, little surface water exists in karst, so for the Maya to flourish on that terrain they had to effectively and efficiently utilize all their water resources. Access to groundwater was by means of springs and caves. Maya life, urban and rural, lay and elite, religious and secular was often a function of groundwater exploitation and surface water development. The Maya's use of groundwater was predominantly to supplement enhanced surface water supplies and was used more often in semiarid zones than in humid zones. The pattern of Maya settlements, especially in the semiarid zones, occurred in areas with greater access to the groundwater. Maya groundwater retrieval methods were primitive, inefficient, labor intensive, and uninnovative, as compared to their other technologic achievements. Groundwater contamination, from human effluent, could have resulted in widespread disease and contributed to the Maya's downfall.


Surface Water, Water Resource, Water Supply, Groundwater Resource, Groundwater Contamination

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