Technology, Rainwater, and Survival of the Maya

Technology, Rainwater, and Survival of the Maya

Video. The ancient Maya had their own version of this sort of landscape-altering infrastructure. The region of the Yucatan Peninsula called the “Puuc” [Pook] has no natural water sources -- no streams, lakes, rivers, or springs -- so the Maya had to use ingenuity to figure out how to sustain large populations in this environment. They became excellent managers of rainwater, using massive systems of cisterns called chultuns to collect and store rainwater.


5 - 12+


Anthropology, Biology, Earth Science, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, World History

Ancient Mayan civilization thrived in Central America thousands of years ago. Anthropologists and archaeologists thought Mayan culture originated in the northern reaches of what is now Guatemala about 600 B.C.E., and migrated north to the Yucatan Peninsula beginning around 700 C.E.

Throughout Quest for the Lost Maya, a team of anthropologists led by Dr. George Bey discovers the Maya may have lived in the Yucatan as far back as 500 B.C.E. This new evidence indicates the Maya of the Yucatan had a very complex social structure, distinctive religious practices, and unique technological innovations that made civilization possible in the harsh jungle.

This video clip from Quest for the Lost Maya focuses on technology. Modern civilizations rely on extensive engineering infrastructure to make life possible. Residents of the arid American Southwest, for instance, are able to sustain megacities thanks to irrigation networks and aqueducts that transport massive amounts of water from distant locations, as well as technologies that convert sewage into potable water.

The Maya had their own version of this sort of landscape-altering infrastructure. The Puuc region of the Yucatan has no natural water sources—no streams, lakes, rivers, or springs. The Maya had to rely on their ingenuity and engineering skills to sustain large populations in this environment.

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Hannah Herrero
National Geographic Society
Anne Haywood, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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