Sustenance and Sustainability
The Aztecs were one of the most advanced civilizations of Mesoamerica, having developed a complex agricultural system that provided sustenance for their population of several million people. The Aztecs relied heavily on agriculture and placed great importance on the proper management of their farmland. They had a deep understanding of the environment and worked in harmony with nature to ensure the sustainability of their agricultural practices. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of Aztec agriculture and how it helped sustain their society.
Terracing: Farming on Steep Slopes
One of the greatest challenges faced by the Aztecs was their need to farm on steep slopes. They addressed this challenge by developing a technique known as terracing. By building stepped platforms into the sides of hills, they created flat areas that could be used for agriculture. This technique also had the added benefit of controlling soil erosion, as the terraces helped to prevent soil from being washed away during heavy rainfall.
Chinampas: Artificial Islands
In addition to terracing, the Aztecs also developed a system of artificial islands known as chinampas. These were small, rectangular plots of land that were built up from the bottom of the lake bed using layers of mud and organic material. The chinampas were anchored in place using willow trees, and crops such as maize, beans, and squash were grown on them. The system was so effective that it is estimated that up to 80% of the Aztec's food came from the chinampas.
Crop Diversity: The Three Sisters
The Aztecs also had a deep understanding of the importance of crop diversity. They grew a variety of crops, but the most important were maize, beans, and squash. These three crops, known as the "Three Sisters," were often grown together in the same field. The maize provided a natural trellis for the beans to climb, and the squash helped to prevent weeds from growing.
Irrigation: Managing Water Resources
The Aztecs also had an advanced system of irrigation that allowed them to manage their water resources effectively. They built canals and aqueducts to transport water from nearby rivers and lakes to their farmland. They also developed a method of flood irrigation, where they would flood their fields with water to fertilize the soil and control pests.
Sustainability: Working in Harmony with Nature
Perhaps the most important aspect of Aztec agriculture was their focus on sustainability. The Aztecs understood that the environment was delicate, and they worked to ensure that their agricultural practices did not harm the natural world. They developed a system of crop rotation, where they would alternate which crops were grown in each field, to prevent soil exhaustion. They also developed a deep reverence for the natural world, and their agricultural practices were deeply intertwined with their religious beliefs.
The agricultural practices of the Aztecs were complex and sophisticated, allowing them to sustain a large population in a challenging environment. By developing techniques such as terracing and chinampas, the Aztecs were able to farm on steep slopes and in shallow waters. Their focus on crop diversity and irrigation allowed them to manage their resources effectively, while their commitment to sustainability ensured the long-term health of their farmland. The legacy of Aztec agriculture lives on in the practices of modern-day farmers, who continue to learn from the wisdom of this ancient civilization.