Reign Falls: Did 200-Year Drought, Less Rainfall Cause Collapse of Classic Mayan Civilization?

on February 24 2012 5:42 AM
Tikal Mayan ruins
Tikal ruins, urban centres of the Maya civilization is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now northern Guatemala. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tikal

Tikal ruins, urban centres of the Maya civilization is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now northern Guatemala. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The decline of the Classic Mayan Civilization that expanded from 250 to 900 AD has been an ever intriguing topic in the world of archaeology with many unexplained theories being speculated as the cause for the end of the civilization in the Yucatán Peninsula and Central America.

However, a severe drought condition is widely considered to be the culprit.

The Mayan civilization flourished till 17th century before Spain invaded the last independent Mayan city of Tayasal in 1697. However, some climate scientists believe that a massive drought struck the regions of the Classic Maya Civilization and persisted for 200 years from AD 800 to 1000, around the same period when the civilization collapsed.

“The disintegration of the Classic Maya civilization in the Yucatán Peninsula and Central America was a complex process that occurred over an approximately 200-year interval and involved a catastrophic depopulation of the region,” authors of a latest study titled “Collapse of Classic Maya Civilization Related to Modest Reduction in Precipitation” wrote in their research paper.

The study published online in Feb. 24 issue of the journal Science analyzes how reduction in precipitation due to droughts could have led to the fall of the Classic Maya Civilization.

“We present a quantitative analysis that offers a coherent interpretation of four of the most detailed paleoclimate records of the event,” the researchers, Martin Medina-Elizalde of National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, UK, and Eelco Rohling of the Yucatan Centre for Scientific Research in Cancun, Mexico, said.

With the help of advanced technology to estimate the rates of rainfall and evaporation between 800 and 950 AD, the researchers found that the droughts occurring during the disintegration of the Mayan civilization represented reduction in annual precipitation by up to 40 percent.

According to the two paleoclimatologists, the fall in precipitation may have happened due to “a reduction in summer season tropical storm frequency and intensity.”

The Classic Maya Civilization period saw significant development in art, culture and architecture of the Mayan people. The Classic period was socially, politically and economically more active and during this time, the Mayan population increased.

The gradual decline of the civilization over a period of 200 years coincided with widespread episodes of drought, but their nature and severity remain an enigma, the researchers concluded.

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