Research on intensive agricultural features contributes to the social relations of farming, including the means by which farmers mobilize labor and the possible destination of surplus. Lidar provides high-resolution data on ancient houses and agricultural features at a regional scale. This paper uses lidar data from NASA’s G-LiHT airborne imager to derive insights about rural demography, interhousehold cooperation, and subsistence interdependency among the ancient Maya. We assess the differences in intensity of agricultural investment in rural and urban areas of the Río Bec region of southern Campeche and Quintana Roo, Mexico, leading to inferences about regional food exchange and complex economies. The scale of interconnected ridges and terraces clearly implies interhousehold cooperation, yet this cooperation was not centralized. Rather, we envision a landscape of smallholders who jointly planned the layout and articulation of agricultural features but pooled most of their labor at the level of the household.

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2021

Notes/Citation Information

Published in Journal of Anthropological Research, v. 77, no. 4.

© 2021 The University of New Mexico. All rights reserved.

The copyright holder has granted the permission to post the article here under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license.

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Funding Information

Dr. Hank Margolis (Program Manager, NASA Terrestrial Ecology Program) oversaw the G-LiHT data collection with funding from a NASA Carbon Cycle Science award to PI Dr. Ross Nelson (Program Announcement Number NNH10ZDA001N-CARBON).