The Mayan collapse signaling the end of their civilization in southern Mexico and Central America has long been one of the larger mysteries in archeology, but experts say they are closer to understanding what precipitated the sudden decline in one of history’s most enduring cultures.
The Mayan collapse is known to have occurred suddenly around 900 AD, following a decline in the highly advanced Maya centers of the southern lowlands marked by a cessation of empire building and construction of structures.
The Mayan collapse is also somewhat controversial, as many scholars say that, in essence, the civilization was sort of absorbed into others with the arrival of the Spanish as the Maya culture began to decline around the time the civilization fell.
But, according to many who study the Maya collapse, a combination of circumstances are emerging as theories to explain the decline of Maya culture around 900 AD. One is drought, perhaps hastened by aggressive deforestation by the Maya people in order to expand the cities.
LiveScience spoke to Benjamin Cook, lead author of a new study examining the causes of the Mayan collapse and a climate modeler at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Cook says of the role of drought in the Mayan collapse:
“We’re not saying deforestation explains the entire drought, but it does explain a substantial portion of the overall drying that is thought to have occurred.”
However, it is believed economic unrest and other social factors also contributed to the Mayan collapse. Researchers write:
“The old political and economic structure dominated by semidivine rulers decayed. Peasants, artisan – craftsmen, and others apparently abandoned their homes and cities to find better economic opportunities elsewhere in the Maya area.”
The new Mayan collapse study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.