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Modeling Settlement Patterns of the Late Classic Maya Civilization with Bayesian Methods and Geographic Information Systems

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The ancient Maya occupied tropical lowland Mesoamerica and farmed successfully to support an elaborate settlement pattern that developed over many centuries. There has been debate as to the foundation of the settlement patterns. We show that Maya settlement locations were strongly influenced by environmental factors, primarily topographic slope, soil fertility, and soil drainage properties. Maps of these characteristics were created at the local scale and combined using Bayesian weights-of-evidence methods to develop probabilistic maps of settlement distributions based on the known, but incomplete, distribution of Maya archaeological sites, both domestic and monumental. The predictive model was validated with independently collected point-sampled field data for both presence and absence, predicting 82 percent of undiscovered Maya sites and 94 percent of site absence. This information should be of use in conservation planning for the region, which is under threat from contemporary agricultural expansion.

Keywords: Maya settlement; predictive modeling; weights-of-evidence

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00045600902931785

Affiliations: 1: ISBER/MesoAmerican Research Center, University of California, Santa Barbara 2: Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara 3: Reno, Nevada

Publication date: July 1, 2009

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