Climate Change Link to Mayan Civilization's Collapse Discovered

© Martha Macri, UC Davis

The myriad reasons for the collapse of the Mayan civilization, which seems to have fallen in a mere 80 years, all have a underpinning in climatic changes, new research published in Science shows.

The final collapse may have happened rather quickly, ending around 1100 CE, but for nearly a millennia prior to that the Mayan's fate rose and fell with changes in the climate.

Using oxygen isotope dating on stalagmites taken from caves near various Mayan sites, scientists were able to determine precipitation levels in the area, and correlate these with known political records taken from Mayan stele and hieroglyphics.

They found, quoting materials supplied by UC Davis:

Periods of high and increasing rainfall coincided with a rise in population and political centers between A.D. 300 and 660. A climate reversal and drying trend between A.D. 660 and 1000 triggered political competition, increased warfare, overall sociopolitical instability, and finally, political collapse. This was followed by an extended drought between A.D. 1020 and 1100 that likely corresponded with crop failures, death, famine, migration and, ultimately, the collapse of the Maya population.

Commenting on the finds from Central America, Bruce Winterhalder, from UC Davis' Native American Studies, bridges the centuries: "It's a cautionary tale about how fragile our political structure might be. Are we in danger in the same way the Classic Maya were in danger? I don't know. But I suspect that just before their rapid descent and disappearance, Maya political elites were quite confident about their achievements."

Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects