This is an EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) to provide funding to take advantage of new discoveries that occurred during the 2010 and 2011 season of the Xcoch Archaeological project, funded in part through the Arctic Social Science Program. The broad vision of the project is to investigate the ways in which ancient Mayan social and political structures responded to climate change that occurred during the Medieval Climatic Optimum (AD 800-900) in the Puuc Hill region of Yucatan, Mexico. The Xcoch Archaeological project is investigating how Arctic climate processes during this critical change period may have affected weather in tropical Yucatan, Mexico which experienced severe droughts. These environmental changes influenced a series of dramatic social and material adaptations, such as the construction and maintenance of large scale irrigation systems, aguadas (engineered cave systems for storing water) and huge catchment systems funneling water into the aguadas.

The 2010-2011 field season was focused on intensive surveying, surface collecting, and mapping of architectural features in the Xcoch urban zone. During this intensive surveying activity the research team located a cave system near to Xcoch that appears to be active in terms of the type of water filtration needed for collecting data relevant to paleoclimate analyses. The discovery of the new cave offers a new opportunity to gather close proximity data that directly relates to the natural and social environment at Xcoch.

The Xcoch project is part of a growing body of research investigating north-south teleconnections of global human ecodynamics. Smyth's research is part of the Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance (GHEA) whose stated objective is to "incentivize" the expansion, integration, and augmentation of cutting human ecodynamics research globally and at short, medium and deep time scales. Although this seems like an odd fit for the Arctic Social Sciences Program, Smyth's participation in the Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance and the discovery of potential teleconnections between Arctic climatic changes and those occurring in the Yucutan, make this project of interest to the ASSP. Questions of how Arctic environmental processes not only affected northern social change, but potentially affected social change at the lower latitudes are an important issue even today. This research is not about direct social contact and associated change, but rather how people respond to change at a structural level, what triggers certain decisions in response to global environmental processes. Before we can understand the complexities of social change and adaptive decisions it is necessary to have global comparisons not just regional ones.

Project Report

(NSF 1132061) This project has researched Arctic-induced climate change for the ancient Maya of the Puuc Hills region of Yucatan, Mexico. Climate change in the Arctic has had potential cultural consequences for many past human societies far from northern Polar Regions, including the Maya Lowlands. During the Medieval Warm Period (AD 800-1300), changing climate made it possible for Norse peoples to colonize the North Atlantic Islands and parts of North America. At the same time, the ancient Maya were experiencing significant disruptions to rainfall patterns including sustained and repeated periods of drought that contributed to varying human responses such as the construction of large and small-scale water management systems. Cycles of severe drought, however, led to eventual societal disintegration for many Maya societies including the Puuc region. How Arctic climate change affected processes of sociocultural development and decline in the North Atlantic and Maya Lowlands has the potential to inform us today regarding the far reaching and serious cultural-environmental consequences of global climate change. To understand the complex effects of Arctic climate change interdisciplinary climate and archaeological data were collected from across the Maya center of Xcoch and the Puuc region. This semi-arid tropical region suffers from a long, precarious dry season with significant geographic and temporal variation in climate impact and human response. The site of Xcoch is providing unique human response information because it had a long occupation, contains a deep cave to a permanent water source, and had many water control features reflecting long-term paleoclimate changes. Neighboring deep water caves in the region have also been explored and researched and the cave known as "la Vaca Perdida" (the Lost Cow) is documenting critical data on varying precipitation patterns over the past 2000 years especially cycles of drought. This work has been largely based upon new and untested ideas untried in the Yucatan, but these approaches, diverse expertise, and interdisciplinary perspectives demonstrate that it is possible to obtain data of past climate change and correspondent human ecodynamics. The project employed an international and interdisciplinary approach to broad global climate change. This transformational work engages the Arctic community because changes in human societies and the climate and environmental conditions as documented by paleoenvironmental, geological, and archaeological research are closely related in polar and tropical regions. The broader impact of this project is providing an increased understanding of human-climate interactions that can be applied in diverse fields of social and environmental science. The outcomes of public interest relate to how climate change and human response in the past can provide lessons and guideposts into how similar processes and events today can affect the lives of people in the present and perhaps can lead to informed strategies and appropriate responses to mitigate the consequences of global climate change.

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Anna Kerttula de Echave
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Suny at Buffalo
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