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The Maya Tropical Forest

The Maya Tropical Forest

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    The Maya Tropical Forest
    Book Description:

    The Maya Tropical Forest, which occupies the lowlands of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, is the closest rainforest to the United States and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Western Hemisphere. It has been home to the Maya peoples for nearly four millennia, starting around 1800 BC. Ancient cities in the rainforest such as Palenque, Yaxchilan, Tikal, and Caracol draw thousands of tourists and scholars seeking to learn more about the prehistoric Maya. Their contemporary descendants, the modern Maya, utilize the forest's natural resources in village life and international trade, while striving to protect their homeland from deforestation and environmental degradation.

    Writing for both visitors and conservationists, James Nations tells the fascinating story of how ancient and modern Maya peoples have used and guarded the rich natural resources of the Maya Tropical Forest. He opens with a natural history that profiles the forest's significant animals and plants. Nations then describes the Maya peoples, biological preserves, and major archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Drawing on more than twenty-five years of conservation work in the Maya Tropical Forest, Nations tells first-hand stories of the creation of national parks and other protected areas to safeguard the region's natural resources and archaeological heritage. He concludes with an expert assessment of the forest's future in which he calls for expanded archaeological tourism to create an ecologically sustainable economic base for the region.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79615-7
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Notes on Names and Orthography
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. On Distances and Measurements
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Epochs of Civilization in the Maya Tropical Forest
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  8. Part One: Time, Land, and Forest

    • 1 Introduction to the Maya Tropical Forest
      (pp. 3-17)

      We woke up to the raucous, barking growl of howler monkeys in the trees overhead—a sound much louder than animals their size should make and one that raises the hair on the back of your neck the first time you hear it in the rainforest. We had slept in the thousand-year-old ruins of the Maya city of Piedras Negras, on a sandy bank above the dark, rushing water of the Río Usumacinta, in northwestern Guatemala. Fifty meters (164 feet) across the water, on the other side of the river, was Mexico, where the same species of tropical trees dipped...

    • 2 History of the Maya Tropical Forest
      (pp. 18-45)

      Legend has it that when the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés first returned to Spain from the New World in the early sixteenth century, the king asked him what this new land looked like. Cortés reached for a sheet of parchment, crumpled it into a ball, and partially smoothed it out on the table before him. Pointing to the convoluted ridges and folds of the paper, he said, “This is the new land’s form.”

      But Cortés already knew that there was more to this region of the world than crumpled mountains and steep river valleys. He had also encountered wild expenses...

    • 3 Natural History of the Maya Tropical Forest
      (pp. 46-110)

      Long before humans came to occupy the Maya region, geology had divided it into highlands and lowlands. Photographs taken from NASA’s space shuttles as they pass over Guatemala show a long chain of volcanic mountains streaming westward along the Pacific Ocean into Chiapas and eastward into El Salvador and Honduras. Here and there, a few volcanoes belch smoke and ash and spew red, iridescent lava down slopes blanketed with pine and oak trees.

      In the scores of river valleys that lie north of this long chain of volcanoes, today’s highland Maya families live in dispersed villages surrounded by forests of...

  9. Photos
    (pp. None)
  10. Part Two: Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize

    • 4 Mexico
      (pp. 113-171)

      The Río Usumacinta slides enormous quantities of thick, brown water past overhanging forest and jagged rock formations in the heartland of Classic Maya territory, draining a major portion of the Maya Tropical Forest. Twelve centuries ago, the river was the principal route for a trade network that exchanged jade, feathers, ceramic pots, salt, obsidian, and copal incense between major cities of the Maya world. Traders, warriors, and ceremonial retinues paddled dugout canoes up and down the river and its numerous tributaries, in territory that now forms part of Mexico and Guatemala.

      Today on the Río Usumacinta, long wooden boats propelled...

    • 5 Guatemala
      (pp. 172-224)

      For the Guatemalan equivalent of US$20 per day, a team of crusty chicle gum harvesters from the settlement of Carmelita, Petén, will guide you on a five-day horse and mule trip through a tunnel in the rainforest to the ancient Maya city of El Mirador. Notwithstanding the beauty and mystery of the 1,700-year-old city, the trip alone is worth the expense. Riding north out of Carmelita after an early morning breakfast of beans, tortillas, and the meat of a terrier-sized rodent called a paca, you pass through progressively denser rainforest that seems to go on forever. Through the occasional gap...

    • 6 Belize
      (pp. 225-256)

      On the third day of the expedition to climb Little Quartz Ridge, we began to eat snails. The leader of our eight-person expedition into southern Belize had contracted six Mopan Maya guides from the farming community of San José, Belize. They would be our guides and help carry our food and gear, including plant presses used by the expedition botanist and the various backpacks of equipment used to gather data in this isolated area. Our Mopan guides knew the surrounding forest well. They had grown up here on the southern edge of the Columbia River Forest Reserve, clearing forest plots...

  11. Part Three: The Future of the Maya Tropical Forest

    • 7 The Future of the Selva Maya
      (pp. 259-286)

      Based on the work of conservationists, archaeologists, and historians, we know that the Maya Tropical Forest is one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet and that during the pre-Columbian era, it hosted the most advanced civilization in the Western Hemisphere, that of the Classic Maya. All available evidence indicates that after a thousand years of successful adaptation to a tropical forest environment, Maya civilization disintegrated between AD 700 and 900 from an interrelated complex of factors—population growth, environmental degradation brought on by deforestation and erosion, increasing warfare, drought, and internal civil strife. The turmoil wrought by...

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 287-288)
  13. References Cited
    (pp. 289-312)
  14. Index
    (pp. 313-324)