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Climate change ended Classic Maya civilization

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Scientists have been analyzing different aspects of the collapse of the classic Maya civilization for years, offering theories such as social unrest, disease, warfare, drought and deforestation.

A new study shows that climate change led to the end of the Classic Maya civilization, confirming an earlier drought hypothesis.

The study, conducted by an international team of researchers, was published in Friday’s issue of the Science journal, showing that severe drought triggered the demise of the civilization, AFP reported on Thursday.

“The rise and fall of Mayan civilization is an example of a sophisticated civilization failing to adapt successfully to climate change,” said James Baldini of Britain’s Durham University.

“Periods of high rainfall increased the productivity of Maya agricultural systems and led to a population boom and resource overexploitation,” he noted, adding that the progressively-drier climate that followed led to environmental degradation and resource depletion, which, in turn, sparked political destabilization and war.

Baldini went on to say that “after years of hardship, a nearly-century-long drought from 1020 sealed the fate of the Classic Maya.”

Based on samples of cave sediments in the Classic Maya region, which includes parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, the researchers compiled a detailed climate record that tracks 2,000 years of wet and dry weather, enabling them to determine the amount of annual rainfall in the region.

Given the fact that the Maya kept a meticulous record of political events by inscribing them on stone monuments, the authors of the study were able to “chart how increases in war and unrest were associated with periods of drought,” Baldini explained.

The drought theory, which holds that rapid climate change in the form of intense drought caused the collapse of the Classic Maya, has been considered controversial “due to dating uncertainties in previous climate records.”

The Mesoamerican Maya civilization is noted for awe-inspiring architecture and sophisticated concepts of astronomy and mathematics.

Initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BC to 250 AD), according to the Mesoamerican chronology, many Mayan cities reached the peak of their glory during the Classic period (c. 250 to 900 AD), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish.


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