Water has been of paramount concern for the ancient Maya. The karst nature of this landmass and a highly seasonal distribution of rainfall have made the capture and storage of rainwater a necessity for much of the region’s history.



Aguadas are an important but understudied aspect of the ancient Maya civilization’s water management systems. Collectively, thousands of aguadas are found wherever the Maya resided in the seasonally parched interior parts of the peninsula.



Aguada Los Tambos is situated 2.2 km south of Xultun within the site’s sprawling urban settlement zone. Xultun, located in northeast Petén, 8 km southwest of the site of San Bartolo, was an important Preclassic and Classic period Maya center (Garrison, 2007). Aguada Los Tambos was investigated by Akpinar Ferrand et al. in 2007 for information on ancient Maya's use of the feature. Investigations revealed modification of the aguada through dredging and berm building (to increase water storage capacity), presence of a plaster floor (to collect water for domestic use), and a possible past regional aridity event based on the extensive mottling (oxidation and reduction) seen in the sediment core (Akpinar Ferrand et al. 2012).



High resolution satellite imagery in Google Earth available for the Tikal National Park in Guatemala made it possible to identify potential aguada locations, some already known through remote sensing analysis and ground-truthed during field research (Thomas, 2010; Dunning et al. 2010). The Google Earth image below displays the possible aguada locations saved as a Google Earth kmz file. Kmz files can be imported into ArcGIS.


It has been observed that faulting and folding largely control the distribution of natural aguadas in the southern Maya Lowlands, as the limestone dissolution and sinkhole formation is concentrated along fractures created by these processes (Beach et al. 2003, Ramos et al. 2004). In Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, remote sensing studies have shown that synclines direct the spatial distribution of bajos (poljes), and dissolution features such as sinkholes typically form along their main anticline axes (Ramos et al. 2004). In archaeological studies, aguadas have been largely observed at the margins of bajos (poljes) (Bullard, 1960; Siemens, 1978; Dahlin et al. 1980; Dunning and Beach, 1994; Wahl et al. 2007). Siemens believed the suitability of bajo margins for aguada formation or construction was an important reason for attracting early ancient Maya settlements to these areas (1978). In the absence of fractures, limestone dissolution is still observed to take place, yielding a more random and less concentrated spatial distribution (Akpinar Ferrand, 2011).


Aguada locations near the site of Tikal with elevation map derived from JPL AirSAR.


IKONOS 4 meter false color infrared image (4,3,2 band combination). A false color image can show differences in vegetation patterns. Aguada de Terminos and Aguada Vaca del Monte appear as white spots. Bajos appear in various shades of blue, while upland vegetation appear in various tones of red.


Aguada de Terminos is a sizable aguada at the site of Tikal. Standing water covered with 'water lettuce' Pistia in 2009. Completely dry and covered with vines and sedges in 2010. Annual precipitation and climate variability affects vegetation cover in aguadas during the dry season.


Earlier reports of Aguada de Terminos mentioned the presence of a berm around it (Puleston, 1970), but this was not confirmed. Dunning et al. (2009) analyzed the possible berm through IKONOS red, Near IR, Green and Blue bands.


Tasseled cap transformation makes the boundary between the upland forest, bajo margin, and possible berm around Aguada de Terminos visible. A tasseled cap transformation enhances brightness, greenness and wetness factors in the image.


Another example of visualization of an aguada through IKONOS involves the image of the center of the site of Tikal. A tasseled cap transformation was applied to enhance certain physical features using ENVI remote sensing software.


Another technique we utilized to detect and differentiate aguadas from the surrounding canopy involves applying edge detection filtering. The filter is able to enhance edges of aguadas with open canopies.





The authors ensured that permission for the use of images and text from copyright holders have been obtained and that the appropriate citations occur with the image captions or in the text. The authors acknowledge that the use of images published on ArchAtlas in pedagogical/educational presentations and contexts is encouraged.


 OpenAtlas sites referred to in, or relevant to, this essay:


Akpinar Ferrand et al. 2012
Akpinar Ferrand, E., Dunning, N.P., Lentz, D.L. and Jones, J.G. 2012, 'Use of Aguadas as Water Management Sources in Two Southern Maya Lowland Sites', Journal of Ancient Mesoamerica, 23 (1): 85-101.

Akpinar Ferrand 2011
Akpinar Ferrand, E 2011, Aguadas: A Significant Aspect of the Southern Maya Lowlands Water Management Systems, Ph.D dissertation: University of Cincinnati.
Available from: http://etd.ohiolink.edu/send-pdf.cgi/Akpinar%20Ezgi.pdf?ucin1307320694

Beach et al. 2003
Beach, T. P., S. Luzzadder-Beach, N. Dunning and V. Scarborough 2003, 'Depression Soils in the Lowland Tropics of Northwestern Belize', 139-173 in A. Gómez-Pompa, M. Allen, S. L. Fedick, and J. J. Jiménez-Osornio (eds), Lowland Maya Area: Three Millennia at the Human-Wildland Interface, Binghamton: Hawthorn Press.

Bullard 1960
Bullard, W. R., Jr. 1960, 'Maya Settlement Patterns in Northeastern Peten, Guatemala', American Antiquity , 25:355-372.

Dahlin et al. 1980
Dahlin, B.H., J.E. Foss and M.E. Chambers 1980, 'Project Acalches: Reconstructing the Natural and Cultural History of a Seasonal Swamp at El Mirador Guatemala; Preliminary Results', 37-59 in R.T. Matheny (ed.), El Mirador, Peten Guatemala, Interim Results, Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation 45, Utah: New World Archaeological Foundation .

Dunning et al. 2010
Dunning, N. P., J. G. Jones, C. Carr, B. and K. Magee 2010, 'Investigaciones de Geoarquelogía y Paleoambeinte en la Zona Mayor de Tikal', 101-112 in D. L. Lentz, C. E. Ramos, N. P. Dunning, V. L. Scarborough, and L. Grazioso Sierra (eds) , Proyecto de Silvacultura y Manejo de Aguas de los Antiguos Mayas de Tikal: Temporada de 2010, Guatemala: Dirección Patrimonio Cultural y Natural de Guatemala.

Dunning et al. 2009
Dunning, N. P., R. Griffin, J. G. Jones, C. Carr, B. Lane, B. Thomas and E. Weaver 2009, 'Investigaciones de Geoarquelologia y Paleoambiente en la Zona Mayor de Tikal', 50-55 in Lentz, D. L., L. Grazioso Sierra, N. P. Dunning, and V. L. Scarborough (eds) , Proyecto de Silvacultura y Manejo de Aguas de los Antiguos Mayas de Tikal: Temporada de 2009, Guatemala: Dirección Patrimonio Cultural y Natural de Guatemala.

Dunning and Beach 1994
Dunning, N. P., and T. P. Beach 1994, 'Soil Erosion, Slope Management, and Ancient Terracing in the Maya Lowlands', Latin American Antiquity , 5(1):51-69.

Garrison 2007
Garrison, T.G. 2007, Ancient Maya Territories, Adaptive Regions, and Alliances: Contextualizing the San Bartolo-Xultun Intersite Survey, Ph.D dissertation: Harvard University.

Insivumeh 2012
Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hidrologia, http://www.insivumeh.gob.gt/. Accessed: April 2012

Johnston et al. 2001
Johnston, K. , A. Breckrindge and B. Hansen 2001, 'Paleoecological Evidence of an Early Postclassic Occupation in the Southwestern Maya Lowlands: Laguna Las Pozas, Guatemala', American Antiquity , 12:149-166.

Puleston 1983
Puleston, D.E. 1983, The Settlement Survey of Tikal, Tikal Report No. 13, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvannia Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Ramos et al. 2004
Ramos, B., R. Machorro and P. Granados 2004, Ecohydrology Of A Karstic Terrain In Northern Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, Ohrid, FY Republic of Macedonia: Water Bodies Protection and Ecohydrology BALWOIS.

Siemens 1978
Siemens, A. 1978, 'Karst and the Pre-Hispanic Maya in the Southern Lowlands', 117-145 in P.D. Harrison and B.L. Turner II (eds), Pre-Hispanic Maya Agriculture, Albuquerque: University of Mexico Press.

Thomas 2010
Thomas, B. 2010, Locating Aguadas in Northern Guatemala Using Remote Sensing, M.A. Thesis: University of Cincinnati.
Available from: http://etd.ohiolink.edu/send-pdf.cgi/Thomas%20Benjamin.pdf?ucin1276981075

Wahl et al. 2007
Wahl, D., T. Schreiner, R. Byrne and R. Hansen 2007, 'A Paleoecological Record from a Late Classic Maya Reservoir in the North Peten', Latin American Antiquity , 18(2):212-222.


How to cite this page: Ezgi Akpinar Ferrand, Benjamin Thomas III, Nicholas P. Dunning (2012), 'Geovisualization and Analysis of Agudas: Natural or Human-made Ponds in the Southern Maya Lowlands', ArchAtlas, Version 4.1, http://www.archatlas.org/occpaper/Ferrand.php, Accessed: 21 February 2019