Did Climate Change Bring Down the Maya?

Following up on Friday’s nifty little graphic about climate change and drought, here’s an interesting little story  from the New York Times that suggests that drought may have contributed to the demise of the Maya civilization in Belize.  Here’s a slightly more elaborate version of the story from the Chicago Tribune.  Both are summarizing an article that appeared in the journal Science, which is not available online unless one is a subscriber.

The story states that by studying stalactites, researchers have been able to determine periods of rainfall and drought during the Maya civilization.  They theorize that the Maya kings derived their power, at least in part, from assuring their people abundant harvests.  When that began to fail, because of a centuries long cycle of drought, evidence of warfare began to surface in the Maya writings.

Ultimately, as history tells us, the Maya eventually “failed” as a civilization, although their descendants still live in parts of Mexico and central America.

It stands to reason that if the all-powerful ruler isn’t delivering (as promised) on the rain, no matter how many sacrifices (human or otherwise) are being offered, that ruler would likely be challenged and perhaps toppled.

But it’s an interesting window into cycles of abundance and drought and the way it affects civilizations.  And perhaps it should also serve as a warning to us not to put too much faith in that date on the Mayan calendar in December that some are worried about.

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