The ancient Maya have recently been the subject of much media attention due to the impending completion of the current 5,125-year cycle of their infamous Long Count Calendar on December 21, 2012.
One of the reasons for the fascination surrounding the supposed future predictions of the Maya was that their civilization, once incredibly sophisticated, rapidly descended into bloody wars between neighboring city-states, depleted resources and eventually complete collapse. Anyone who has visited Mayan sites in Mexico and Central America knows that most of the cities are still engulfed in a fast-growing jungle; scientists are now speculating that the primary reason for the collapse of Mayan civilization may be climate change. Sindya N. Banoo reports for New York Times:
The ancient Maya civilization may have risen — and then fallen — in response to climate change, scientists report after creating precise climate records going back 2,000 years.
The researchers, whose findings appear in the current issue of the journal Science, reconstructed rainfall patterns using cross-sections of stalagmites from a cave near the ancient city of Uxbenka, in what is now southern Belize. First, they dated the samples with the technique called uranium-thorium dating; then, to generate a climate record, they measured oxygen isotopes, which are sensitive to rainfall.
The early classic Maya period — about A.D. 450 to 660 — “was remarkably wet,” said an author of the study, Douglas Kennett, a geo-archaeologist at Penn State. “There was a proliferation of population, an increase in agriculture and a rise in divine kings that became prominent leaders.”
But then things dried up. The researchers compared the climate record with an existing “war index” — a log of hostile events based on how often certain keywords occurred in Maya inscriptions on stone monuments — and found a strong correlation between drought and warfare between cities…
[continues in the New York Times]