Scientists have devised a clever new technique to help them determine just how severe the conditions of drought were during the time that the Maya civilization was collapsing 1,000 years ago, allowing researchers to pinpoint the different things that may have helped to cause this rapid disintegration.
Along the Yucatan Peninsula in Lake Chichancana, scientists from the University of Florida and the University of Cambridge discovered that they were able to extract isotopes of water that were held inside gypsum in the lake and measure these to analyze the drought that would have occurred during this time period, as Phys.org reports.
During the time that the Maya civilization began falling apart, it was determined that rainfall dropped sharply from 41 percent to 54 percent. However, during times of severe drought this level increased markedly to 70 percent.
Cambridge Ph.D. student Nick Evans, the author of the new study, explained that despite the controversy surrounding the theory that drought may have helped to cause the demise of the Maya civilization, this new research shows much more conclusively that there was indeed a serious lack of rainfall during the time that their way of life was ending.
“The role of climate change in the collapse of Classic Maya civilization is somewhat controversial, partly because previous records are limited to qualitative reconstructions, for example whether conditions were wetter or drier. Our study represents a substantial advance as it provides statistically robust estimates of rainfall and humidity levels during the Maya downfall.”
— Phys.org (@physorg_com) August 2, 2018
It is useful to note that there were four different time periods which occurred during the Maya civilization, and these include the Preclassic period, (2,000 BC to 250 AD), the Classic period (250 to 800 AD), the terminal Classic period (800 to 1000 AD), and the Postclassic period (1000 to 1539 AD). During the time of the Classic period, the Maya civilization could be said to have been at its peak with its powerful city-states and the architecture we associate it with today.
However, when the 9th century rolled around there was a fairly large political upheaval occurring, and the Maya people were left without their spectacular city-states and would have had to carry on without the system they had been used to for thousands of years.
While there are many things which could have helped to contribute to the collapse of their civilization, scientists have determined that at the height of its collapse there was a serious and prolonged issue of drought occurring.
The new study which links the collapse of the Maya civilization with a lack of rainfall has been published in Science.