Sacred Groves
July 29, 2009 5:42 PM   Subscribe

UC Scientists Determine That Ancient Maya Practiced Forest Conservation — 3,000 Years Ago. "As published in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, paleoethnobotanist David Lentz of the University of Cincinnati has concluded that not only did the Maya people practice forest management, but when they abandoned their forest conservation practices it was to the detriment of the entire Maya culture." [Via]

Meanwhile, in present-day India, conservationists are trying to preserve sacred groves:

New Notion of the Sacred
Unlike much of the Western world, the Indian subcontinent has managed to retain many thousands of groves, forests, rivers, lakes, and mountains that are afforded special protection for religious or spiritual reasons. Despite the enormous cultural disruption caused by British rule and the wave of industrialization that followed independence, sacred places in India have survived as a living tradition into the modern age.

As the nation starts to feel the environmental strain of its economic boom, with a rapidly expanding population growing ever more hungry for land and resources, ecologists have begun to recognize sound scientific reasons for preserving human-free zones. Ancient as the tradition is, and as imbued with folklore and myth, declaring certain places sacred dovetails with some very modern concepts. Conservation groups are currently urging the Indian government—whose policies have led at times to the erosion of many sacred-grove systems—to acknowledge and understand the ways in which the country’s past may be key to its future.
posted by homunculus (9 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

I feel like I read something just like this a few years ago.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 6:14 PM on July 29, 2009

Amazing synchonicity ... I'm away from Metafilter for 3 months planting trees in the Canadian wilderness, and this is the first post I come back to.

Thanks for this.
posted by mannequito at 6:17 PM on July 29, 2009

Translated from the original Mayan: "Drill, baby, drill"
posted by anthill at 6:23 PM on July 29, 2009

It may just be poor reporting, but it sure sounds like they're making a big leap from what they actually found to the presumed motivations behind it. That the Maya had "sacred groves" which they resisted cutting down is one claim. That they practiced deliberate forest conservation is really quite another.
posted by yoink at 6:37 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I didn't think Mayan civilization really went back 3000 years. The "Classic period" is generally considered to be 250AD - 900 AD.

That summary reeks of "noble savage" preconceptions.

And the comments about how they suddenly started releasing large amounts of CO2 was ludicrous in context.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:39 PM on July 29, 2009

It seems like it would be more "conservationy" if they Mayans actually said something like: "These groves are sacred for the next 500 years, after which we switch these other groves, and after that these ones we're harvesting now are sacred..." Sort of a three field rotation of forestry. It's not like they didn't have calendars for dealing with that kind of long term planning.
posted by wobh at 7:02 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would also argue that the the change in their foresting activities was still likely part of a larger civilizational change and ultimately decline, and not so much causation as it was symptomatic of the whole shift.

Also, the modern labelling - with no historical evidence of forests as being "sacred" to the Mayan - adds a whole lot of loaded assumptions to the discussion that has no support in that article. What there is is a lot of modern moralism applied to the past to mythologize and educate us on what we should - and should not be doing. There very well may be good lessons there, but I'd rather draw my conclusions than have them pre-interpreted for me - especially when I don't get to see all the data/information.
posted by julen at 7:59 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Neocon Mayans kicked out the tree huggers ran things right. "There's fundamentally nothing that humans can do to affect the environment. Lets tear down those forests and build some temples!"
posted by eye of newt at 8:04 PM on July 29, 2009

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