|WATER HARVESTING IN POOLS AND CISTERNS
|Chichén Itza, Yucatan, MEXICO
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|Continent: North America
Site: Chichén Itza
Description of the local variant of the technique
Chichén Itzá was a holy town attended by hundreds of pilgrims who practiced religious ceremonies in the large squares ornamented with beautiful stone terraced pyramids and harmonious temple constructions surrounded by colonnades. The climax of the rites was the offering to the holy well, the cenote, which was considered to be the residence of the gods and of the ancestors’ souls. The cenote are natural sinkholes deriving from the depression in the limestone crust on a level with underground cavities. The openings expose the ground water fed by the rainfall through the fissures and the porosity of the rock. The cenote are essential in the ecology of the region of Yucatan, a karst area where in spite of the abundant precipitations that provide a dense vegetation cover the fertile soil is thin and the surface waters are inexistent. Without the latter and the karst cavities (such as the cave called Loltun) where since prehistory drinking water collected under the stalactites, life would not be possible. By analysing the water resources it is possible to understand the vicissitudes of the town. The name Chichén derives from two Maya words: chi that means «mouth» and chen that means «well». The ancient chronicle narrates the discovery of a place called «the mouth of the wells». These explain why the town was founded. The alternate abandonment and reuse leading to its final collapse is explained by the constant need for water supplies and by theestablishment of the supremacy of the nuclei that possessed the necessary knowledge. In the pre-Columbian civilisations the practices of landscape modification to create rainwater harvesting systems on a large scale by creating water intakes along the slopes, dams and watersheds, predate the monumental architecture and date back to the 1st millennium BC (Scarborough and Isaac, 1993). The most ancient site where the hydraulic works explain the same architectural development which was to lead to the building of the pyramids is Saint Lorenz, dating back to the pre-classic age and accomplished by the Olmec people. In Saint Lorenz and later in La Venta the problem was the excess water transported by sudden floods. Since 1200 BC the Olmec had built up a wide artificial platform made out of earth and coloured clay, on the top of which other elongated hillocks were built. The overall appearance is that of a natural hillock with sloping glacis dug out by erosion channels. Actually, the channels are perfectly symmetric and the complex as a whole is an architectural work which anticipates the step pyramids. A sophisticated drainage system provided pure water, which was filtered through a series of basins and collected in reservoirs by a network of channels made out of well-shaped and perfectly connected stones.
Technique still in use.
TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUE DATA