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Landscapes of Cultivation in Mesoamerica on the Eve of the Conquest


Whitmore, Thomas M. & Turner, Billie L., II (1992). Landscapes of Cultivation in Mesoamerica on the Eve of the Conquest. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 82(3), 402-425.


Pre-Columbian Amerindian agriculturalists developed technologies and management practices with which to crop a wide range of ecological conditions, giving rise to a multiplicity of cultivated landscapes. This variety was particularly evident in Mesoamerica, where agricultural practices ranged from swiddening to multicropped, hydraulically transformed wetlands. Here we explore these indigenous cultivated landscapes as they existed about the time of the Columbian Encounter. We illustrate them through the examination of three transects approximating the courses of the initial Spanish entradas through this diverse region: the first extends from the Gulf coast to central Mexico; the second traverses the Yucatán peninsula from north to south; and the third climbs into highland Guatemala from the Pacific coastal plain.
Second, we broadly sketch the major changes that took place in these landscapes during the first phase of Spanish domination and some of the forces that shaped these changes. Three processes were especially significant: the Amerindian depopulation, the introduction of exotic biota and technologies, and the reordering of land and the rural economy. Ultimately, however, reconfigured “hybrid’ landscapes resulted that reflected the union of cultures.
Last, we argue that the scale of environmental transformation of Amerindian agriculture has not always been fully appreciated, the scale of environmental degradation associated with Spanish introductions has been overstated at times, and the contrasting ideologies of nature between the two cultures has been oversimplified.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Annals of the Association of American Geographers


Whitmore, Thomas M.
Turner, Billie L., II