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Gaye Crispin's Blog

A little over 2,000 years ago, many of the Maya were on the move.

They abandoned the eroded and deforested low-lying land on the Yucatan peninsula – probably because of a bad drought – and headed to hillier elevations in what is now modern-day central Guatemala, according to Vernon L. Scarborough, an anthropologist at the University of Cincinnati. There they began to build Tikal, one of the largest and most successful Mayan settlements.

The Temple of the Great Jaguar at Tikal.

A settlement, though, needs resources. When the Maya moved, they needed to devise a complex water collection and usage system that would sustain Tikal for nearly a millennium. This system is described by Dr. Scarborough and his colleagues in a new paper published online on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While scientists have learned much about the Maya by mapping, measuring and digging at Tikal for at least a century, they…

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