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Archaeologists discover largest Maya dam at Tikal

Temple at Tikal, Guatemala. Photo courtesy Raymond Ostertag.

Ancient earthworks helped ensure sustainable management of resources in challenging environment

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Archaeologists have long known that the Maya were sophisticated engineers, but new excavations at Tikal, Guatemala show the amazing extent to which they were able to manipulate the environment to their advantage, including construction of 260-foot dam that stored up to 20 million gallons of water.

That dam – constructed from cut stone, rubble and earth – stood about 33 feet high and held about 20 million gallons of water in a man-made reservoir.

The research, conducted by a multi-university team led by the University of Cincinnati, helps explain how the Maya conserved and used their natural resources to support a populous, highly complex society for over 1,500 years despite environmental challenges, including periodic drought. Continue reading

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Travel: Eco adventures on the reefs of Belize

Leigh, at right, scopes out Cockroach Caye as guide Carlos Miller gathers driftwood for a cookout.

Snorkeling, kayaking and caving, with stops at Caye Caulker, Altun Ha and Aktun Tunichil Muknal

By Bob Berwyn

TURNEFFE ATOLL — It’s rare to hear a tropical island-dweller say anything good about hurricanes, so Leigh and I listen up as Carlos Miller explains how the storms lead to renewal and growth, and not just destruction. Bigger hurricanes can destroy mangrove stands like the ones we’re exploring on Cockroach Caye. But over time, the storms  flush sand off the reef and into the trees. The mangrove roots trap the sand to build new land, and the coral is swept free of choking sand, so the storms help sustain both parts of this intertwined ecosystem that plays a crucial role in transferring organic matter from land to ocean.

We’re in the middle of a snorkeling day about 30 miles from the Belize mainland, relaxing near a makeshift Robinson Crusoe shack on Turneffe Atoll. While chunks of foil-wrapped chicken sizzle fragrantly on a wood fire, Miller leads us around the tiny speck of land and explains how the mangroves are the marine nursery for the fish we’ve been seeing around the coral gardens of the atoll.

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