Land and Water Revisited

FULL EPISODE

Land and Water Revisited

Revisiting the 1962 documentary "Land and Water: An Ecological Study of the Teotihuacan Valley of Mexico," this film focuses on the environmental changes that have taken place in the region over the past 60 years and the role humans have played in altering the environment, both past and present.

AIRED: April 30, 2021 | 0:57:07
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TRANSCRIPT

[Program Start]

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- [Narrator] Change, it's inevitable.

It's constant.

Nothing is static.

Nothing stays the same.

Change can be beautiful.

Change can also be stressful.

Broader systemic changes, like those to our environment,

happen incrementally and go undetected in our daily lives.

Seeing those changes all at once can be quite a shock.

As the human population continues to expand,

towns and cities throughout the world

are experiencing monumental changes.

This film provides two snapshots to tell one story;

the story of the people

of the Teotihuacan Valley in Central Mexico.

(film reel ticking)

In 1961, Pennsylvania State University archeologist,

Bill Sanders, filmed a documentary entitled,

"Land and Water: An Ecological Study

of the Teotihuacan Valley of Mexico."

(gentle gentle music)

The film captured the daily lives of people in the valley,

farming techniques,

pulque production,

and even the washing of clothes

at one of the many perennial springs.

And although that area is home

to one of the world's most iconic early civilizations,

the archeological site of Teotihuacan, it's never mentioned.

Its absence was purposeful.

Sanders wanted to focus on the community.

The film was about the hardworking and creative people

of the Teotihuacan Valley.

(film reel ticking)

- He was always a person who had a great deal of interest

in the ordinary lives of people,

and his PhD work down here had made him fascinated

with the way in which ordinary people made a living,

and all the problems that they faced

as parts of households and families.

I think it had to do also with his own origins,

which were very plain.

Unlike many archeologists,

he was a person who came from an unprivileged background

and who found himself engaged

with the traditional agrarian people,

and he thought of them as the building blocks.

- Bill always believed that land and water

were the critical ingredients

in terms of understanding human societies.

(gentle upbeat music)

- [Bill Sanders] 7,000 feet above sea level,

in the heart of Mexico is the Valley of Teotihuacan.

This small mountain Valley

is located only 30 miles from Mexico City.

- Because of his work with all these farmers in Mesoamerica,

he had a very good grasp of ordinary things

that people had to do and contend with,

which of course comes through in the "Land and Water" film.

- Well, I regard "Land and Water"

as an anthropological classic.

- You know, here you have a documentary

of a particular time and place that no longer exists,

that's in a way irreplaceable because of that.

- And "Land and Water"

gives us a great long-term perspective

on what the Teotihuacan Valley was like over 50 years ago,

and how it's changed since then,

a lot of traditional technologies

of agriculture and land use.

It's amazing to see the landscape so rural

compared to what it is today.

(speaking in foreign language)

- Anybody could have gone around and did it,

but he did it, right?

And that's the big issue.

And so I think the social relevance

of work like this is enormous.

It represents a time and place that will never come back.

It's hugely significant for the folks here.

And in the end,

what do we do in archeology and anthropology?

In the end, hopefully we actually help people.

(film reel ticking)

- [Narrator] Sanders chose the Teotihuacan Valley

for a reason.

In the early 1960s, the people there still relied

on highly productive farming practices

that originated in the 16th century.

(birds chirping)

There were numerous perennial springs and small rivers

that farmers relied upon for irrigating their crops.

(gentle water trickling)

The population of the valley at that time was around 90,000.

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- [Bill Sanders] Economically, the most important

hillside cultivate is the maguey,

whose sap is fermented into a type of wine called pulque.

A few months after castration,

the maguey begins to secrete into the taza,

a sweet watery liquid called aguamiel or honey water.

Twice a day the tlachiqueros or maguey cultivators

go out to the maguey fields and extract the aguamiel.

The third activity of the hacienda

is the production of pulque.

The aguamiel is brought in by burro

late in the morning and late in the afternoon

and taken to the tinacal or brewery.

(liquid pouring)

(knife scraping)

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- [Narrator] The original "Land and Water" documentary

was released in 1962.

Over the next 56 years,

it became a standard part of anthropology classes

at universities across the United States.

The people of the Teotihuacan Valley, however,

never had an opportunity to see the film

that had captured their lives and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, life in the valley changed dramatically.

(people chattering)

In 2018, over half a century after it was made,

the film was translated into Spanish,

and for the first time,

shown in the communities where it was made.

(gentle upbeat music)

- The resurrection of "Land and Water"

and making it accessible to the public,

both the English speaking and the Spanish speaking public,

is something I guess, that never crossed our minds

in the early days about this.

The film was designed to teach things in class.

(speaking in foreign language) (water trickling)

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- [Narrator] For several people,

the public viewing was more than a stark reminder

of how drastically their community has changed.

(gentle music)

It was a window into their own family history.

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(gentle upbeat music)

- [Bill Sanders] Here, Andres Reyes,

from the village of Maquixco,

diverts some water into the canal

surrounding his two quarter acre field.

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(film reel ticking)

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(dramatic music)

- [Narrator] Today, very little

of the valley's agrarian landscape remains.

And what does exist is monocropped,

worked by machinery,

and saturated with chemicals

and petroleum-based fertilizers.

And the water is all but gone.

Many households no longer even have water for daily use,

and must rely on people's de agua or water trucks.

The population of the valley has grown from 90,000 in 1962

to over a million, a staggering 1,000% increase.

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- We have unaccountably Walmarts in the Teotihuacan Valley

within a couple of miles from the Pyramid of the Sun.

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(water gently trickling)

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- [Narrator] Since 1960 aridity has increased

and the water table has dropped by over 50 meters.

The average temperature is rising

and is predicted to increase 2.5 degrees Celsius

by the end of the century.

Like many places throughout the world,

the people at the Teotihuacan Valley

are facing an uncertain future with overwhelming challenges;

not only to their way of life, but life itself.

(film reel ticking)

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(cheerful music)

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(plane engine whirs)

- In terms of the collapse of Teotihuacan,

which of course is a huge issue,

and we have not answered it fully.

(gentle music)

It gets us asking, well, what made them reject the city?

So what went wrong?

Were there environmental factors

plus social institutions that were failing,

or that people lost trust in

and ultimately abandoned the system?

Now, could that happen here today is anyone's guess,

and just like we've seen

technological adaptations in the past,

we would hope that capturing rainwater

and other things that Mexico City is working on

would lead to productive outcomes.

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