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Contact Period Rural Overpopulation in the Basin of Mexico: Carrying-Capacity Models Tested with Documentary Data

  • Barbara J. Williams (a1)

Abstract

The carrying-capacity model applied to the Basin of Mexico by Sanders et al. is tested by Contact period hieroglyphic data on population and landholding from the rural tlaxilacalli (ward) of Santa María Asunción. Two calculations are made of the theoretically maximum tlaxilacalli population, one using the Sanders et al. parameters, and the second based on Asunción data. The analysis confirms the accuracy of Sanders et al.'s maize yields and average per-capita maize-consumption rate (if a variable of seed set aside is included), but suggests revision downward of household size. Although for the wrong reasons, the Sanders model correctly predicts the range of population for Asuncion. The balance between simulated household maize consumption and production shows that carrying capacity under viable, long-term strategies had been exceeded for poor and average agricultural years in the Contact period. At the tlaxilacalli level, grain deficits of greater than — 50 percent are projected for poor years, a — 28 percent deficit to + 11 percent surplus in average years, and surpluses of 10 to 74 percent in good years. In average years, to meet the maize requirements of the recorded population, continuous cultivation rather than 1:1 fallowing must have occurred on marginal land. Rural overpopulation apparent in Asunción may have been typical of many piedmont communities. The impetus for Late Horizon expansion of agricultural settlement might have come as much from rural overpopulation as from state-directed settlement to provide subsistence for Tenochtitlan.

Résumé

Los datos jeroglifícos sobre la población y la tenencia de la tierra de un tlaxilacalli rural aportadospor el Códice de Santa María Asunción se usan para probar un modelo aplicado por Sanders et al., el cual predice el número de habitantes que pudiera haber sido sostenido en la Cuenca de México. Se hacen dos cálculos de la máxima población teorética que pudo haber sido abastecida por las tierras de Asunción, uno usando los parámetros de Sanders et al, el otro basado en los datos del códice. El análisis confirma la exactitud de los rendimientos de maíz y la tasa promedia del consumo de maíz por persona (si se incluye la cantidad de semilla apartada para la siembra) propuestos por Sanders et al, pero sugiere una reducción del tamaño medio de unidades familiares. El modelo de Sanders et al. predice correctamente el rango de cantidad de habitantes en Asunción, pero por razones erróneas. El equilibrio entre la producción y el consumo de maíz calculados por unidades familiares muestra que en el período del Contacto bajo condiciones agrícolas pobres o normales y siguiendo estrategias agrícolas viables a largo plazo, se sobrepasó la capacidad terrestre de sostener a la gente. A nivel del tlaxilacalli, la falta de maíz llegó a — 50 tanto por ciento en los años pobres, faltó — 28 tanto por ciento o hubo excedentes a +11 tanto por ciento en los años promedios, y excedentes de 10 a 74 tanto por ciento en los años buenos. Durante años normales, para sostener a la gente registrada en el códice, debieron haber cultivado las tierras marginales cada año en vez depracticar barbecho 1:1. El excedente de población rural en Asunción quizá fuera típica de las comunidades del somontano. El empuje de la expansión de asentamiento agrícola durante el Horizonte Tardío quizá fuera tanto la consecuencia de excedente de población rural como el esfuerzo estatal de asegurar el abastecimiento de Tenochtitlan.

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References

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Contact Period Rural Overpopulation in the Basin of Mexico: Carrying-Capacity Models Tested with Documentary Data

  • Barbara J. Williams (a1)

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