Canal Discoveries Indicate Advanced Civilization

“Canal Discoveries Indicate Advanced Civilization,” Ensign, Aug. 1973, 71–72

Canal Discoveries Indicate Advanced Civilization

Excavations by a team of Brigham Young University archaeologists on the Yucatan Peninsula indicate that an early pre-Mayan culture had an advanced knowledge of engineering and intensive farming more than 2,000 years ago.

A network of some 30 canals and over 25 man-made, large-scale reservoirs has been discovered beneath the jungle overgrowth at the ruins of Edzna, about 30 miles west of Campeche, Mexico. Artifacts emerging from pits and surface collections date construction of the works sometime between 400 B.C. and A.D. 100, during what archaeologists call the late pre-classical period.

Dr. Ray T. Matheny, associate professor of archaeology at BYU, says the ancient builders must have had engineering know-how, as indicated by their ability to determine descent of grades. Their canals still drain water from the outlying jungle areas and divert it into the complex of reservoirs.

According to Dr. Matheny, “The deep rich soils, which are rare on the Yucatan Peninsula, and the possible use of canals for pottery watering suggest intensive agricultural practices not known among the Mayan peoples today.”

Watering crops with supplemental moisture is a departure from the well-known “milpa” or “slash and burn” primitive system of land use employed by the Mayan Indians, which archaeologists have theorized eventually depleted the land and led to the decline of the Mayan civilization some time around A.D. 900.

The canals provided drainage for the water-logged clay soils in the area, further enhancing its agricultural potential. Such soils without drainage are too wet in the rainy seasons and bake to become untillable during dry spells. Use of supplemental water would have allowed the people to grow crops year around.

The canals radiate “like the spokes of a wheel” from a large Mayan pyramid known as Cinco Pisos, which was discovered in 1927. The pyramid dates back between A.D. 700 and 900, during the peak of the late classic period.