How Did the Mayan People Farm?

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The Mayan are known for the controversial farming technique know as "slash and burn." Slash-and-burn farming involves cutting down trees and shrubs in heavily wooded areas and burning the area to create fields for crops. Rapid deforestation often results.

For many years, the Mayans have been under scrutiny for their slash-and-burn farming technique. Modern Mayan descendants still employ the technique. The problem with slash-and-burn farming is that it creates only temporary fields that produce limited crops. So farmers must continue to slash and burn new areas to create new fields. Many scholars believe that deforestation as the result of slash-and-burn farming led to the downfall of Mayan civilization. Recent research suggests, however, that slash and burn was not the only type of farming practiced by the Mayans and that they were adept agriculturalists who were excellent at adapting less than ideal surroundings into farmland. Research in the wetland areas that were occupied by Mayans suggests that the Mayans were able to convert marshes into farming areas through the employment of a series of canals that helped them control water flow throughout the area. This may have been a later solution to the deforestation issues created by slash and burn farming, or it may have been a method used concurrently.