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Environment and History

The Role of Cenotes in the Social History of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Paul George Munro and Maria de Lourdes Melo Zurita

Environment and History 17 (2011): 583-612. doi: 10.3197/096734011X13150366551616

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has had a complex and dynamic history, which has seen processes such as the rise of the Maya civilisation, colonial conquests, indigenous rebellions and a range of commercial activities. The Peninsula also represents a unique ecological place in the world: no rivers or major lakes exist on its surface - rather fresh water can only be found in its extensive underground flooded cave system, which is only accessible through cenotes (water sinkholes) that sporadically pierce the landscape's surface across the region. This paper seeks to reconcile the above observations, analysing how the Peninsula’s dynamic history and its unique ecological landscape have interacted, producing certain environmental, social, political and economic outcomes. Thus, presented in this paper is an alternative perspective on the Peninsula’s history, cast through an environmental historical lens that elicits nature’s role as a historical actor.

KEYWORDS: Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula, cenotes, water, environmental history


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