Agricultural terraces are widely spread all over the world and are among the most evident landscape signatures of the human fingerprint, in many cases dating back to several centuries. Agricultural terraces create complex anthropogenic landscapes traditionally built to obtain land for cultivation in steep terrains, typically prone to runoff production and soil erosion, and thus hardly suitable for rain-fed farming practices. In addition to acquiring new land for cultivation, terracing can provide a wide array of ecosystem services, including runoff reduction, water conservation, erosion control, soil conservation and increase of soil quality, carbon sequestration, enhancement of biodiversity, enhancement of soil fertility and land productivity, increase of crop yield and food security, development of aesthetic landscapes and recreational options. Moreover, some terraced areas in the world can be considered as a cultural and historical heritage that increases the asset of the local landscape. Terraced slopes may be prone to failure and degradation issues, such as localized erosion, wall or riser collapse, piping, and landsliding, mainly related to runoff concentration processes. Degradation phenomena, which are exacerbated by progressive land abandonment, reduce the efficiency of benefits provided by terraces. Therefore, understanding the physical processes occurring in terraced slopes is essential to find the most effective maintenance criteria necessary to accurately and adequately preserve agricultural terraces worldwide.
Paolo Socci, Alessandro Errico, Giulio Castelli, Daniele Penna, and Federico Preti
Deborah L. Nichols
The Basin of Mexico is a key world region for understanding agricultural intensification and the development of ancient and historic cities and states. Archaeologists working in the region have had a long-standing interest in understanding the dynamics of interactions between society and environment and their research has been at the forefront of advances in both method and theory. The Basin of Mexico was the geopolitical core of the Aztec empire, the largest state in the history of Mesoamerica. Its growth was sustained by a complex economy that has been the subject of much research. Two themes underlie a broad interest in the pre-Hispanic agriculture of the Basin of Mexico. First, how with a Neolithic technology did the Aztecs and their predecessors sustain the growth of large cites, dense rural populations, and the largest state system in the history of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica? Second, what is the relationship of agricultural intensification and urbanization and state formation? Mesoamerica is the only world region where primary civilizations developed that lacked domestic herbivores for either food or transportation. Their farming depended entirely on human labor and hand tools but sustained large cities, dense populations, and complex social institutions. Intensive agriculture began early and was promoted by risk, ecological diversity, and social differentiation, and included irrigation, terracing, and drained fields (chinampas). Most farming was managed by smallholder households and local communities, which encouraged corporate forms of governance and collective action. Environmental impacts included erosion and deposition, but were limited compared with the degradation that took place in the colonial period.