Paleoecological Studies at the Ancient Maya Center of Yaxnohcah Using Analyses of Pollen, Environmental DNA, and Plant Macroremains

David L. Lentz, Trinity L. Hamilton, Nicholas P. Dunning, John G. Jones, Kathryn Reese-Taylor, Armando Anaya Hernández, Debra S. Walker, Eric J. Tepe, Christopher Carr, Jeff L. Brewer, Thomas Ruhl, Stephanie A. Meyers, Mariana Vazquez, Alex Golden, Alison A. Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Yaxnohcah was a major city of the ancient Maya world, especially during the Preclassic period (1000 BCE–200 CE). Data from excavations provide important insights into the interactions between the ancient inhabitants and its surrounding Neotropical forests, a topic that, as a whole, remains largely enigmatic. This study aspired to fill that void in understanding by using traditional paleoethnobotanical approaches and a powerful new technology, the analysis of environmental DNA. Our results enabled us to characterize the vegetation growing in association with the principal structures and the artificial reservoirs that provided the city’s water supply. Because the area is without access to permanent water sources, such as rivers or lakes, these reservoirs were key to the development and survival of the city. Our results indicate that although there were large areas cleared for agricultural purposes, a mosaic of mature upland and bajo forest remained throughout the Maya occupation. In addition, our studies reveal that there were incursions of pine savanna into the area that may have been a reflection of prevailing edaphic conditions, or alternatively, the result of frequent burning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number868033
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Jun 2 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The United States National Science Foundation [Grants BCS-1632392 (ND and DL); BCS-1642547 (DL, ND, and TH)], the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grants 430-2017-00190 and 892-2019-3070 (KR-T), a University of Calgary URGC Seed Grant (KR-T), the Universidad Autónoma de Campeche (AA), and the University of Cincinnati Intellectual Property Fund (AW) provided financial support for this research.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Lentz, Hamilton, Dunning, Jones, Reese-Taylor, Anaya Hernández, Walker, Tepe, Carr, Brewer, Ruhl, Meyers, Vazquez, Golden and Weiss.


  • agroforestry
  • environmental DNA
  • lidar
  • Mesoamerica
  • Neotropical forest
  • pine savanna
  • reservoirs


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