In my current research I attempt to show that the Prehispanic settlement pattern of the Cochuah region in southern Mexico was far more fluctuating than what is proposed in various drought related palaeoclimate models. The Maya were not nomads as such but they were not necessarily stationary either in the long-term. In Deleuze and Guattari’s description of human (read Old World) history they set up nomads as a group circumscribing the arborescent State apparatus. This is not a completely accurate picture for the Prehispanic States that I believe incorporated such “nomadic” tendencies into their strategies. I basically propose that during times of frequent droughts farmers could disperse across the landscape without that ever threatened the workings of the State. It is rather the workings of the Spanish State that completely changed the strategies. What Gill and palaeoclimatologists believe was a desperate search for food in the forests during Colonial period droughts may very well have been an ancient strategy that the Spanish reducción policies attempted to discourage.
In 1552 Tomás López Medel’s Ordenanzas was launched. It was directed at the organization, behavior, and governance of the indigenous population. It contributed to the reducción and evangelization. William Hanks (2010:35) writes that “all forms of motion were dangerous [to the Spanish State and Church], whether the movement of Spaniards out of Yucatán, the circulation of Indios (leaders or commoners) outside their towns […], the traversing of Indian hunters in the forest […], the hiding of Indios from missionaries […], the voluntary relocation of Indios from their “natural” towns to others […], or the scattering of Indian houses in the forest…” Anyone who has done an archaeological survey in the forests of Yucatan will notice the scattering of Prehispanic houses in the forest.
With these changes the old Prehispanic fluctuating settlement pattern ceased to exist and people became more sedentary. This ultimately became disastrous during droughts when congregated settlements exacerbated the effects of diseases that followed the droughts. Since Gill and others make analogies to Colonial and modern settlements in their research the result cannot be anything but incomplete. Sure droughts were disastrous in Prehispanic times as well but there were strategies to cope with them that the Spanish reducción wiped out.