Farming Systems and Political Growth in Ancient Oaxaca

Science  27 Oct 1967:
Vol. 158, Issue 3800, pp. 445-454
DOI: 10.1126/science.158.3800.445


The Valley of Oaxaca's large flat floor, high water table, low erosion rate, and frost-free floodplain give it a higher agricultural potential than that of most surrounding areas. The development of the pot-irrigation system early in the Formative period gave it a head start over other valleys, where the low water table did not permit such farming; Oaxaca maintained its advantage by assimilating canal irrigation, barbecho, infield-outfield systems, flood-water farming, and hillside terracing as these methods arose. With the expansion of population in the high-water-table zone of the high alluvium, competition for highly productive land and manipulation of surpluses may have led to initial disparities in wealth and status; competition probably increased when canal-irrigation systems were added during the Middle Formative, improving some localities to the point where one residental group owned land more valuable than that of its neighbors.