Gulf Coast Agricultural Intensification
My attention has recently shifted to a pristine opportunity to examine the relationship among agricultural intensification, political control, population increase, environmental change, and subsequent political collapse in the Gulf lowlands. Using satellite remote sensing and a 5-m resolution LiDAR elevation module I have identified about 15,000 hectares of intensified agriculture in the region’s wetlands. These are similar to the Aztec chinampas but were likely constructed in a different manner. These Classic period field-and-canal systems were built at the time of maximum pre-Columbian population in the Gulf region. The fields permitted expansion of the growing season into the dry season, which is a form of subsistence intensification. The questions of importance are who drove intensification, who coordinated the labor, how was surplus food and possibly cotton appropriated (or not) by elites, and what went wrong to precipitate a pervasive sociopolitical collapse across the Gulf lowlands about 800 AD? The data available in the region are among the best in the world to examine strategies of elite/non-elite cooperation and collective action in the archaeological record.