Ramón and Maya Ruins: An Ecological, not an Economic, RelationJ. D. H. Lambert and J. T. ArnasonScience
New Series, Vol. 216, No. 4543 (Apr. 16, 1982), pp. 298-299
Observations on Maya Subsistence and the Ecology of a Tropical TreeCharles M. PetersAmerican AntiquityVol. 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 610-615
Did the Maya Build Forests of Breadnut Trees?
The breadnut tree (Brosimum alicastrum) is an important species of tree that grows in the wet and dry tropical forests of Mexico and Central America, as well as in the Caribbean Islands. Also known as the ramón tree, asli or Cha Kook in the Mayan language, the breadnut tree usually grows in regions that are between 300 and 2,000 meters (1,000-6,500 feet) above sea level. The fruits have a small, elongated shape, similar to apricots, although they are not particularly sweet.The seeds are edible nuts which can be ground and used in porridge or for flour.
THE BREADNUT TREE AND THE MAYA
The breadnut tree is one of the dominant species of plants in the tropical Maya forest. Not only its density very high around ancient ruined cities, particularly in the Guatemalan Petén, but it can reach a height of around 40 m (130 ft), producing abundant yields and with several harvests possible in one year. For this reason, it is often still planted by modern Maya near their homes.
The widespread presence of this tree near ancient Maya cities has been explained variously as:
- The trees could be the result of a human-manicured or even deliberately-managed tree farming (agro-forestry). If so, it is likely that the Maya first simply avoiding cutting the trees down, and then eventually replanted breadnut trees near their habitations so that now they propagate more easily
- It is also possible that the breadnut tree simply grows well in the limestone soils and rubble fill near ancient Maya cities, and the residents took advantage of that
- The presence could also be the result of small animals such as bats, squirrels, and birds which eat the fruits and seeds and facilitate their dispersion in the forest
THE BREADNUT TREE AND MAYA ARCHAEOLOGY
The role of the breadnut tree and its importance in ancient Maya diet has been at the center of many debates…
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