What really wiped out the Mayans?

What really wiped out the Mayans?


Mayan civilization is one of the oldest and the most mysterious civilization of the ancient world. There had been so many stories told about their extinction, most of which are assumptions. British journalist Robin Wylie discussed what may be the actual reason behind their extinction. Today we will publish the second part of it.

The Maya cities which fell during the 9th Century droughts were mostly located in the southern portion of their territory, in modern day Guatemala and Belize. In the Yucatan peninsula to the north, however, the Maya civilisation not only survived through these droughts, it then began to flourish. While the southern Maya civilisation began to disintegrate, the north enjoyed relative prosperity, with the rise of a number of thriving urban centres. These included one of the greatest of all Maya cities, Chichen Itza (one of the world’s “New Seven Wonders”). This northern resurgence flies against the drought theory of the Maya’s demise: if the south was permanently crippled by the climate shift, critics argue, then why wasn’t the north?Researchers have proposed various explanations for this north-south discrepancy, but so far no one theory has won out. Recently, however, a new discovery has gone some way towards resolving this enduring paradox.Maya archaeologists find dating difficult. Almost none of the Maya’s written records, which once numbered in the thousands, survived past colonial times (on the order of Catholic priests, the Spanish burned Maya books wholesale – only four are now known to exist). Instead, to determine the times that ancient Maya cities thrived, researchers rely on calendar inscriptions on stone monuments, stylistic analysis of the Maya’s ornate ceramics, and radiocarbon dates from organic materials. Earlier studies had already determined the approximate ages of the main urban centres in the northern Maya civilisation; it was these that had revealed that the north had endured the 9th Century droughts. However until recently this haul of data had never been gathered together in a single study. Doing so is important, because it allows the northern Maya region to be viewed as a whole, helping researchers to identify overarching trends in its rise and fall.Now, in a study published in December, archaeologists from the US and the UK have brought together for the first time all of the calculated ages for urban centres in the northern Maya lands. These comprise about 200 dates from sites across the Yucatan peninsula, half obtained from stone calendar inscriptions and half from radiocarbon dating. The researchers could then construct a broad picture of what times the northern Maya cities had been active, and the times when they each might have fallen into decline.What the team found significantly changes our understanding of when, and perhaps even how the Maya civilisation met its end. Contrary to previous belief, the north had suffered a decline during a time of drought – in fact, it had suffered two of them.

There was a 70% decline in stone calendar inscriptions in the second half of the 9th Century. This same pattern of decline is also echoed in radiocarbon dates across the northern Maya region, which indicate that wooden construction also dwindled during the same time period. Importantly, this is the time that the droughts are believed to have caused the collapse of the Maya civilisation in the south – evidently the north didn’t come through these droughts unscathed after all.The researchers believe that this waning of creative activity shows that political and societal collapse was underway in the north. The north certainly fared better than the south during the 9th Century, but these new findings suggest that the region nevertheless suffered a significant decline. This northern decline had previously escaped detection mostly due to the subtle nature of the evidence: a decline in construction, even one as large as this, is hard to spot without the comprehensive, region-wide analysis provided by the new study.The northern decline of the 9th Century is an intriguing new detail in the Maya’s story, but it doesn’t fundamentally alter it – after all, we already knew that the northern Maya had survived past the 9th Century droughts (Chichen Itza and other centres thrived until well into the 10th Century).But the second decline the team identified does change our understanding of the Maya’s story.
source: Robin Wylie (British Journalist)


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