By Audrey Cross
Archaeologists… they need help. They excavate sites, hopefully taking really good notes, ask for help from specialists, read, synthesize information, imagine past cultures and landscapes, theorize, question, and hopefully publish their findings. I don’t want to be an archaeologist, but since both of my parents were, it’s a part of me. Maybe without being an archaeologist myself, I can help them, though, because their work is best done with help from different types of specialists.
In the summer of 2012, I did a field school that my mother was running in the Rio Bravo Conservation Area in northwest Belize. My late mother had done work and run field schools there for as long as I’ve been alive, and I was finally getting a sense of what her work meant. Amongst the many facets of this field school that sparked my interest, the study of the nearby bajos got my mind thinking in terms of paleoecology.
Fig. 1. Members of the 2012 Maax Na field crew at Bolsa Verde, excavating a Mayan plaza. Perhaps 30m from the edge of this picture, there is a steep slope downwards towards to the bajo. (Photo by Audrey Cross)
We are all familiar with the images. The barren landscape. Brown, dead vegetation spanning as far as the eye can see. Lakes and rivers shrinking in size, their relict banks cracked and dry.
These dryspells or droughts can last from days to years and they occur when a region receives below average precipitation. Droughts are generally said to arise from insufficient precipitation amounts over an extended period of time. This shortage in precipitation occurs typically in one season or more, and results in a water shortage for an environmental region. The impact of the drought arises from the interaction between the natural events (less precipitation than expected) and the demand on the water supply (both from the environment and humans), which can exacerbate the impacts of the drought. Because of these factors that can influence the magnitude of the drought, they need to be taken into consideration when working to define a drought (National Drought and Mitigation Center). Frequently the definitions can vary from location to location as certain areas are less adapted to low water conditions than others. But it can also dependent on timing. For example, in the desert a month without rain doesn’t have the same effect as it would in the rainforest. However, if the month without rain in the desert came during the period designated as the rainy season, the impacts would be drastically different.
Depending on how long these dryspells last there can be a huge impact on the ecosystem and economies associated with them. One prime example is the Dust Bowl. Continue reading