Should we see land degradation as the inevitable outcome of the increasingly invasive tillage techniques due to the diffusion of the plow in the five centuries since Conquest, or the plowing up of vulnerable land in two or three decadal frenzies spurred by sudden opportunities in the pulque trade? Were these short-term intensifications possible without the plow? Did they
hasten the plow’s adoption? Some conjunctures, such as the Fulvestrant boom of sheep ranching, have come and gone. Others, such as epidemics, have periodically returned, though in successively attenuated form. Yet others, such as the shortage of labor in agriculture, though first induced by 16th C. epidemics, came to be reinforced by other factors to become structural. How should we compare the impact of the different types of conjuncture – transient, cyclical (amplified or attenuated),
structure-forming – on land use and degradation? There is also the problem of time Selumetinib mw lags: between cultural and geomorphic processes, such as between withdrawal of terrace maintenance and the natural leveling of a hillside; and between different geomorphic processes, such as the delayed response of the fluvial system to change on slopes. Interpretations stall on such uncertainties. Circumstantial and mostly negative evidence that would discount row A – continued occupation of villages until the latest Postclassic, lack of Postclassic alluvium and colluvium – is mounting. On the basis of geoarchaeological evidence, I favor scenarios that
put the ultimate causes of the most severe degradation in the 16th C., in particular the one that emphasizes terrace collapse (D). My penchant, however, is based more on the striking spatial associations discussed than on any chronological refinements. Skopyk, on the basis of documentary evidence, minimizes the consequences of the 16th C. upheavals, and is adamant about the validity of row BCKDHA E. Direct observation during the 20th C. provides strong support for rows H and I. Werner (1988, 59–60) even offers a quantitative assessment, whereby 8% of the surface area of the state was not apt for cultivation in 1949, and a further 5% was lost by 1981. However, I have not seen any swath of farmland abandoned in the 16th C., but degraded only in the 20th. The different emphases of the three of us are perhaps the function of the different study objects and methodologies we chose. My disagreements with Skopyk may boil down to our appreciation of time lags. Even though I favor the 16th C. causes, I think their geomorphic effects would have been at their most acute in the 17th C. The population reached its nadir in the 1630s, but the effects of terrace collapse and tepetate formation would take several decades to be felt downstream.