When I think about parks, my thoughts immediately go to either national parks or greenways in urban settings that are a refuge from the city’s perpetual motion and asphalt.  For the former, I tip my cap to Theodore Roosevelt for his many contributions to the National Park Service. (Even though it was Ulysses S. Grant that established Yellowstone as the first national park.)  For the latter, I credit Frederick Law Olmsted, who in the mid-1850s completed the inspired landscape design of Central Park in New York City.  When the space became disreputable in the 1930s, Robert Moses was the mastermind of its restoration.  He also earned my appreciation.   So, to me, parks are a relatively recent invention. 

Elsewhere such as in Europe, studies suggest that some parks probably developed from medieval pastures.  However, in Central America, they may have been intentionally engineered within some ancient cities.  These would date much further back than the 1800s.  

The Mayan city of Tikal was established around 1000 BCE (that is, “before the common era”).  The city was abandoned around 900 CE.  Between this period, this ancient city boasted gigantic pyramid-like

Tikal
Image by ickandgak from Pixabay

structures used for astronomical observations, extensive irrigation channels, sports arenas, and lots of housing for the residents.   The surrounding rainforest vegetation was cleared to make way for all this construction.  Streets were paved and almost every building was made of stone.   In this Guatemalan climate, all this rock exacerbated the hot and dry surroundings.   Hence the need for a green space to provide a bit of relief. 

Moving forward to more recent times, a team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati discovered that the Tikal reservoirs had been lined with trees, grasses, and other flowering vegetation. What they didn’t find were crops, reeds, or any plants associated with some agricultural or religious purpose.

This was unusual.  Instead, this area was an intentional forest in the heart of the city.  In other words, it was a park.  

Perhaps they were the originators of the concept. It seems that a bit of nature has always benefited a city’s inhabitants.  Some good ideas just never go out of style.  

Sources:

The research team was able to identify the types of plants in that location using a next-generation DNA technique.  You can read more about this at:  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-91620-6

Or, check out the original press release here: https://www.uc.edu/news/articles/2021/06/did-the-ancient-maya-have-parks.html

 

@uofcincy   #tikal

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