Mayan History The Maya are probably the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica.
But then, suddenly, the skies went dry. During this time, the Maya built cities with plazas and multistory temples, devised a complex calendar systemand housed an urban population density that rivals Los Angeles County today.
But then, sometime between the 8th and 9th centuries, many of the bustling Maya cities fell silent. By around CE, a number of the grand cities had been abandoned. Some speculate that deforestation drove people away; others believe that war and political strife tore cities apart.
Still more note that the whole idea of a collapse is too simplistic because not all Maya cities fell, and some were reinhabited. The jury is still out because none of the hypotheses can fully explain what caused a society advanced enough to conceptualize the number zero and potentially predict meteor showers to crumble.
A study unveiled today in Science offers fodder for another answer: Scholars believe that the Maya relied heavily on rain to fuel their maize fields and fill drinking reservoirs.
However, the magnitude of this drought remained unclear, the authors noted in their paper. Was it a mild shift toward less precipitation or an intense dry spell? To find out more, researchers examined the same lake as in the prior study: Water, Trapped in Crystals Within Lake Chichancanab, the authors looked at stable isotopes in gypsuma soft sulfate mineral.
But if the lake shrinks—because of, say, a drought—the gypsum reaches saturation and starts raining out as a solid onto the lake bed. The prior paleoclimate data, among other findings, pointed to the mere presence of gypsum in the sediment record as evidence of drought.
Hydrogen and oxygen atoms, the researchers hypothesized, hold the key to understanding the drought. But the new study went a step further.
Gypsum is a hydrous mineral, meaning that it has two water molecules bound in its crystalline structure. When gypsum precipitates out from the lake waters, it takes with it several hydrogen and oxygen atoms, capturing in its crystals the characteristics of the lake water from which it formed.
These hydrogen and oxygen atoms, the researchers hypothesized, hold the key to understanding the drought. Oxygen O has several types of naturally occurring isotopes. Each isotope has only eight protons in its nucleus but different numbers of neutrons.
The heavier oxygen isotopes, 18O and 17O, are more likely to stay behind and not evaporate.
Did this enrichment happen during the previously identified drought? Dense layering indicates drier periods and spans the time of what scholars believe to be the fall of the Maya civilization. Cream-colored lenses in the strata indicate gypsum crystals, which tend to precipitate during times of drought.
The researchers then simulated how bad the drought would have been to make the isotope ratio seen in the gypsum.
The simulations gave a stark number: So clearly other factors also play a role. If drought did help lead to the Maya downfall, could it be an alarm bell for severe droughts that humans face today? Published on 02 August Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.Severe Drought May Have Helped Hasten Ancient Maya’s Collapse Chemical signatures from sediments in lake cores reveal that the centuries-long drought during the fall of Classic Maya civilization.
How much did rainfall have to decrease to trigger the collapse of Lowland Classic Maya civilization during the Terminal Classic Period? This collapse is a well-cited example of how past climate change—in this case, drought—can disrupt a population. Evans et al. measured the isotopic composition of water in Lake Chichancanab, Mexico, to quantify how much precipitation decreased during that.
What followed the Classic period, however, is the “mysterious” collapse of the Maya in what is called the Terminal Classic period ( to CE).
What we know of the mysterious collapse is that the Maya abandoned their major infrastructure; the spectacular temples, pyramids and palaces that was the hallmark of the Classic period. Easier - Ancient Maya had a highly structured civilization that thrived in southern Mexico and Central America around year In the s, the Maya were discovered, conquered, and almost totally destroyed by invading Spanish.
Today's Maya are descendants of that American Indian tribe. Theories about what caused the Classic Maya collapse have ranged from overpopulation to ongoing military conflict between competing city-states to some catastrophic environmental event, such as an.
'In Ancient Maya, Arthur Demarest, an authority on the Olmec and Maya civilisations, applies an holistic, theoretically-integrated perspective to this study of archaeology, paleoecology, and epigraphy, as well as to his evaluations of fellow scholars.