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Feb 29, 2012, 5:57 PM

Post #1 of 5 (6382 views)


Why did the Maya civilization "collapse" (so to speak)?

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Interesting research findings have recently been published:


"Relatively mild drought conditions may have been enough to cause the collapse of the Classic Maya civilisation, which flourished until about AD950 in what is now southern Mexico and Guatemala. Scientists have long thought that severe drought caused its collapse."
"But Mexican and British researchers now think that a sustained drop in rainfall of only 25-40% was enough to exhaust seasonal water supplies in the region"


Mar 1, 2012, 6:47 AM

Post #2 of 5 (6347 views)


Re: [tonyburton] Why did the Maya civilization "collapse" (so to speak)?

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They made some interesting discovery in Toniná which was the last city to be abandonned in Chiapas and they are about to find out why the city was abandonned via DNA.
There was a take over of the ruling class by a group of people. There either was a revolution and take over by the masses of the aristocratic class or a take over by a different ethnic group.
They found the tomb of the last governor that had been violated . In that same tomb they found other remains which are probably the remains of the leaders of the next group. The bones were sent for analysis last year. I have not heard if the analysis was completed or conclusive. but the ruling class of that city had been taken over and kicked out and the new group had elected not to live in the city according to the archeologists on site.


Mar 1, 2012, 8:14 AM

Post #3 of 5 (6335 views)


Re: [Vichil] Why did the Maya civilization "collapse" (so to speak)?

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Thanks for that update. I love the site of Toniná. Well worth the time and effort involved in getting there!


Mar 1, 2012, 5:00 PM

Post #4 of 5 (6289 views)


Re: [tonyburton] Why did the Maya civilization "collapse" (so to speak)?

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The BBC report paints with a very broad brush. Many Maya sites that collapsed had abundant sources of surface water - not like the northern Yucatan sites that depended on ground water in cenotes.

I think there were other significant dominoes that were already in place - such that a minor drought stress played in concert with a number of other big dominoes.

Has anyone out there read the treatise on how much firewood it took to stoke all the cooking fires and the even-more wood-intensive practice of making tons of lime-plaster to stucco all the Maya pyramids, plazas, buildings, and palaces?

If you take the number of inhabitants for each of the Maya city states, and calculate how much firewood they consumed just to cook the limestone to make lime to stucco and plaster all the floors, walls, plazas, palaces, and buildings - versus - how quickly the jungle regrows - and then add in the cooking fires (no Zee gas or Delta gas or 'lectric stoves or microwaves in those days) - it quickly becomes apparent that basic thermodynamics and population sizes prove that the Maya denuded their forests for very large areas around their major cities...

This makes the same ultimate point as the scientific authors quoted above - but does not rely so heavily on speculation - and it is not offered as an overly simplified single-cause / single-effect relationship as used above to describe the fall of Maya cities and city states. Single Cause: Drought - Single Effect: Collapse of Maya Cities or Collapse of Maya Civilization across a wide area of very different climatic regions.

Singe-cause single-effect - dyadic relationships & solutions are appealing to humans because they neatly oversimplify potentially messy bits of life - taking complex multi-causal realities and making them manageable by offering seductive neat tidy characterizations: tall/short - good/bad - asleep/awake - Democrat/Republican - wrong/right - thin/fat - black/white - Liberal/Conservative - yada yada yada...

If one combines the effects of 100's of years of Maya activities at individual sites - where they denude the surrounding jungles for kilometers for firewood and crops - and outstrip the rainfall, use-up the soil's productivity, cut down their easily accessible firewood, have NO beasts of burden to haul loads and not even simple carts nor wagons... wasting 1,000's of Maya workers daily efforts to haul wood, haul food, and haul water every day just to sustain the activities of their overgrown cities...

...then it becomes plain that the the big denuded areas become heat islands that start to affect the local weather, in addition to a number of other pre-existing realities.

Toss in the underlying instabilities of their living systems caused by:
~ too many people concentrated in too small an area with marginal agricultural support,

~ too many people consuming all local and then relatively far-off marginal firewood supplies,

~ these "brilliant" people push their resources well beyond their capabilities, and they do not develop appropriate solutions, (never converting their children's wheeled toy carts into useful & necessary adult tools),

~ the "brilliant" leaders and people continue repeating the same mistakes over and over, on ever-grander scales, because "that's how we've always done it",

~ people's efforts focused on government public works projects of building huge platforms, huge buildings, elaborate palaces, etc, versus sustainable farming, hunting, and activities that feed & support their families,

~ decision making being driven and exclusively controlled by a small number of elite

~ the elite people living in palaces making non-beneficial choices for the ordinary workers

~ elitist decisions that push ideological &/or religious agendas ahead of the what the society really needs....

~ generations of elitists pushing society into lifestyles that overuse and exhaust limited resources...

Hmmmm.... Is it really about some brief drought? Or some short shift in the climate or rainfall?


Were there many dominoes already set-up in neat rows - ready to be toppled en mass by a minor event?

or Maybe their beliefs in the Gods, the Maya Calender, and bad leadership of the Priests, Warriors, and Rulers were the major cause of setting-up, creating, and expanding all the unsustainable - easily-toppled systems.**

Do any of the factors listed above have any modern parallels?

To me this is a beautiful example of someone (the academic researchers) hacking through the jungle - discovering a small temple or small hill - without looking up and out to see the greater mountains in their background. The "discoverer" then trumpets his big latest discovery to the world:

"Drought caused the Maya Civilizations to Crumble !"
... ignoring at least 10 other big precariously-teetering unstable dominoes already in place.

A breeze topples a house of cards - and some people claim that: "Breezes knock down houses!"

Academics are particularly prone to trumpeting their latest recognition as the definitive solution or best insight - where publication of "novel ideas" is critical to furthering academic advancement. Should we jump aboard the latest express train of a clever idea or bit of data, thinking it is the only and exclusive route to understanding?

Too cynical?
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Mar 1, 2012, 5:34 PM

Post #5 of 5 (6283 views)


Re: [YucaLandia] Why did the Maya civilization "collapse" (so to speak)?

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Agreed, which is pretty much what the researchers (Martín Medina-Elizalde andEelco J. Rohling actually say, even in the abstract and title of their article:

Title: Collapse of Classic Maya Civilization Related to Modest Reduction in Precipitation [my emphasis]

Abstract: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. Although it is well established that the civilization collapse coincided with widespread episodes of drought, their nature and severity remain enigmatic. We present a quantitative analysis that offers a coherent interpretation of four of the most detailed paleoclimate records of the event. We conclude that the droughts occurring during the disintegration of the Maya civilization represented up to a 40% reduction in annual precipitation, probably due to a reduction in summer season tropical storm frequency and intensity.
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