Earlier this month, Jeffrey Brewer, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) Department of Geography, presented his current findings on some of the earliest evidence of water conservation in ancient societies. Deep in the remote jungles of northwestern Belize, along what is known as the Maya Medicinal Trail, Jeffrey and his team uncovered how Mayan populations in remote areas – the hinterland societies – built reservoirs to conserve water and used nature to purify a community’s water supply.
This is not the University’s first expedition into the dense rainforests of Belize. Brewer’s research, titled “Hinterland Hydrology: Mapping the Medicinal Trail Community, Northwest Belize” is a continuation of UC’s exploration of Mayan culture that has spanned decades. The focal point of Brewer’s research has been a rural community on the outskirts of the major Maya city of La Milpa. Although this remote agricultural community lacked the population of the major Mayan cities, this location retained the strategies of artificial terraces and water reservoirs that would have been utilized for farming and water management. 
These artificial reservoirs (depressions in the soil that were lined with clay to create a water-tight basin) allowed the Maya community to conserve water from the rainfall during the wet season from December to spring. These ancient cisterns allowed the settlement to continue their consumption behavior and agricultural practices during the region’s driest months of the year. By creating these local reserves of water, the Hinterland community created a resilient supply of potable water. Without this supply, the community would have been much more dependent on the larger Maya cities that ran a centralized water conservation and distribution system. 
In an interview with University’s school paper, Brewer suggests that the Mayans were not only conservationists, but early water purification technicians as well. “They also controlled the vegetation directly around these reservoirs. The types of lily pads and waterborne plants found within these basins helped naturally purify the water. They knew this, and they managed the vegetation by these water sources that were used for six months when there was virtually no rainfall.” 
As of now, Brewer’s research will continue. Further research is needed to understand how these rainwater catchments were constructed and managed. If possible, Brewer hopes to uncover how this knowledge may have been translated to other settlements, allowing communities to retain a resilient and stable supply of water that was unaffected by climate and larger centralized water distribution systems.