The perpetuation of error in the Science of wetlands

Authors: Timothy Beach*, University of Texas at Austin, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, The University of Texas at Austin
Topics: Soils, Paleoenvironmental Change, Geomorphology
Keywords: wetlands, soils, Maya, canals
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Marshall North, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The lure of wetland agroecosystems has been tantalizing for decades. Wetlands all over the world have remarkably linear patterns that suggest ancient canals and we know from historical sources that wetland agriculture and aquaculture were and are intensive and key components of cultural subsistence. We also know that wetlands are key ecosystems for biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as persistent places that attract humans generation after generation. But remote sensing imagery showing purported large tracks of wetland canals have led to claims of vast wetland agroecosystems that have little scientific evidence. This paper explores this topic based on what evidence we need to be able to prove that wetland features are indeed ancient agroecosystems. We consider two articles in the journal Science that have claimed vast ancient Maya wetland agroecosystems in 1981 and 2018. Both articles appear to show linear canals over large areas but lack validation. Indeed, there are many processes that can indicate linearity that are not canal systems and canals may also not be linear. The presentation then explores these processes that mimic ancient wetland agricultural features. Finally, we present a conceptual model of criteria to prove that linear features or even nonlinear features are ancient agricultural ones. We use examples from South America and Maya Lowlands and extensive coverage of linear features from recent laser scanning of Maya tropical forests.

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