All ancient civilizations recognized today have had their period of rising and fall, but there have been few who have gone through this more dramatically than the Maya Empire. After having many prosperous centuries of growth in terms of culture, urbanization, intellect, and agriculture, the entire civilization was swallowed up by the jungle that surrounded it. There have been multiple approaches to explain the demise of the Mayans, including cataclysmic events like earthquakes, plagues, and volcanic eruptions. However, the maost recent discoveries point to climate change being the reason behind the decline, and that the Mayans may just have migrated to other areas rather than starve in an unfeasible environment forced upon them.
The Mayan Civilization flourished between the period from 300 to 660 AD. The beginning of this period is known as the Classic Maya Period, and more than sixty cities came up in the areas which lie today in Belize, Guatemala, and the Yucatan Peninsula. They housed between sixty to seventy thousand people in total. The Mayans were keen philosophers and intellectuals. In fact, they were the first to have made a correct solar year calendar. They were also the ones who introduced to the world the use of Cacao beans as beverages. The hillsides of the region were topped with very fertile soil, and the farmers of the civilization were prosperous too, catering to the demands of the growing population of Mayans.
They were quite prosperous, but then the period of decline arrived which lasted for close to two hundred years. By the year 1100, the thriving Mayan cities were empty, and almost every person had vanished. These prosperous centers were soon covered over by the jungles around them, and it was not until the nineteenth century that they were rediscovered. Explorers began discovering these lost cities, and various theories were floated as to why they would be abandoned in such totality. Some people believed that it could be due to natural calamities like a volcanic eruption, or an earthquake, while others thought that it was due a super pandemic capable of wiping out of thousands of lives in a short period. However, today scientists and researchers believe that there may have been many causes behind the collapse, and all of them combined with each other led to the demise of the Mayan civilization. These include warfare, famine, drought, and overpopulation. Most recently, research has been focused on the notion that climate change may have been the driving force behind the events.
One of the most recent studies of climate change and the Mayan culture has involved analysis of the stalagmites found in a Belizean cavern. These stalagmites are formed due to minerals dripping from the roof the cavern, and they tend to grow faster during periods of rain. This gives scientists an accurate picture of the levels of precipitation across a wide range of years. One of the stalagmites that were used for this study was primarily a record of a wet period of almost 2000 years. Scientists discovered that the Classic Maya period received precipitation at a much higher level than at any other time in the millennium preceding it. All early civilizations typically thrived in areas where agriculture was easy, and this was the case too with the Mayans. This period was the most prosperous for the Mayans, and one of the reasons how they established in eth region. Agriculture flourished in the time, and as a consequence, the population grew and proliferated. The wettest period extended from the year 440 to 660 AD, and Mayan cities came up in the region. The characteristics that defined the Mayans, such as the architecture, political systems, and the religious practice all came up during this period. Hover, though this was an extended period, i.e., two centuries, it turned out to be an anomy in the climate. The wet period that the Mayans had was not typical for the region, and soon the system reverted to a more reasonable order. The entire civilization was formed and based on the high rainfall that was present in the area. When the rain disappeared, the Mayans were not able to cope with the change.
After 660 AD, to the beginning of the next millennium, there repeated instances of extreme drought in the area. The first to suffer from this was agriculture, and this led to all other social aspects failing. As farming was affected by the draughts, there were increased social conflicts in the culture. There was a belief in among the Mayans that their rulers and kings communicated directly with the gods. As such, it was expected that they would ask them for more rain, but when this did not happen, the political systems became strained. There was no rain, and no good harvest, which were necessary for the Mayans to survive.
Things became worse soon after that, as per the study of the stalagmites in Belize. The period from 1020 to 1100 was marked by a dry spell that overshadowed anything that had come for more than 2000 years before. This not only led to widespread crop failures, but also to famines, deaths, and massive levels of migrations of the Mayan population The Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century with their conquistadores, and by that time, just a tenth of the original population remained. Forests had already reclaimed entire cities, urban centers had been entirely abandoned, and farms had gone wild again.
Part of this collapse was due to natural causes, as discussed above, but the Mayans themselves may also have been responsible to some extent. At its peak, there millions of Mayans inhabiting the region, and they were continually using natural resources to build cities and create farms from forestland. There were high levels of deforestation to claim land, which would have led to a lower release of moisture into the atmosphere. Over the years, this led to a disruption in the pattern of rainfall in the region, eventually leading to the dry spells.
Another study of archaeological data compiled from the Yucatan Peninsula provides a better view of the prevalent environmental condition so the area XXhttps://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/08/21/1210106109.abstract XX . This has been especially valuable in understanding the period when the region was abandoned. The study showed that there was reduced rainfall as well as a higher level of deforestation at this time. The Mayans cut down and/or burned larger areas of the forest for the purpose of agriculture. They also needed a large amount of firewood for use in their elaborate construction activities. It is estimated that they required more than twenty trees to create a square meter of the landscape that have been discovered. Researchers at Columbia University have studied these trends, and they developed a model to understand the relationship between population, level of land clearance and the effects on rainfall XXXX. Areas that are cleared of forest and green cover tend to release less water into the atmosphere, which leads to less cloud formation and precipitation. Thus, any kind of deforestation carried out at a large scale in a short period of time has an effect on the rain patterns of an area. This is similar to what was done by the Mayans.
The increase in population density of the Mayans was unprecedented, and combined with all the other factors; it was bound to have a catastrophic impact on the entire civilization. Though they were advanced in some aspects, the Mayans did not have the means to be able to tap the groundwater. They had a system of reservoirs and canals, which they used for irrigation widely. This was useful in the times when they had a good rain, but when the rains stopped, these sources were finished quickly, and after that, they were left helpless. There was widespread crop failure, and the droughts became worse and longer in the summer seasons of growth. Around the same time, the overland routes of trade were also being discarded in favor of sea-based paths. Thus, the movements of people were shifting from crossing over the Mayan’s region to going around the peninsula on boats. The traditional elites of Mayan society were dependent on these routes and agriculture to build their wealth. With failing agriculture, as well as trade, they Mayans lost much of their power. This resulted in lesser upkeep of the cities and availability of means for those who were dependent on the elite. These peasants, craftsmen, and farmers were then left with no other choice but to abandon their home in order to survive
The demise of the Mayan Empire is made even more interesting due to the advancements they were making in various fields. They had developed knowledge of the environment that was not seen before. They had also managed to erect a sustainable system of agriculture and water supply. These had allowed the Mayans to survive two extended periods of the arid climate. They understood the environment and knew how to allocate and use resources even in times when they became low. The Mayans understood the environment they lived in and had thrived there for centuries. However, even when they knew so much, they continued cutting down trees at a pace that had direct impacts on the climate. In fact, they managed to make their local environment unsuitable for their own society.
The decline and demise of the Mayans have occupied researchers ever since the first ruins were discovered. It was an anthropological mystery for a long time, but now there is a better understanding of the cause behind the disappearance of the Mayans. In that time, there have been many possible theories about the likely cause. Internal strife, invasion by outside forces, widespread disease, and climate change have all been discussed. Up until the time when the climatic conditions of the time were probed in depth, the common belief was that it was internal factors that led to the decline of the civilization. However, at the end of the 20th century, there had been more detailed studies of lakes, marine sediments and other geological structures and formations in the region. These showed a change in climatic conditions at the time as the collapse of the Mayans. Thus, a correlation between climatic change and the fall of the Mayan Civilization has been found; it has become the most persuasive explanation for the same. Today, this is the most plausible theory in comparison to all the others that have been proposed or discussed ever since the discovery of their ruins.
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