Century-Long Drought Was Mayans' Undoing

Civilization failed 'to adapt successfully to climate change': study

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 9, 2012 8:18 AM CST

(Newser) – The Mayan civilization collapsed at the hands of "a nearly century-long drought," says a UK-based researcher following a new study that the AFP reports has confirmed an existing climate-change theory. The Mayans' rise and fall "is an example of a sophisticated civilization failing to adapt successfully to climate change," says James Baldini. First, extensive rainfall prompted "a population boom and resource overexploitation," he explains. Then things got drier, and as resources grew scarce, political unrest developed.

Finally, "after years of hardship, a nearly century-long drought from 1020 sealed the fate of the Classic Maya," Baldini says. His team based its research on analysis of stalagmites in a Belize cave near a Mayan site. Since stalagmites are the result of dripping water, they can reveal precipitation records. Researchers compared the water-related findings to Mayan political records inscribed in stone. That allowed the scientists to "chart how increases in war and unrest were associated with periods of drought."

This photo taken on May 25, 2012 shows a jade piece in the tomb of a very early Mayan ruler.   (AP Photo/Tak'alik Ab'aj Archaeological Project)
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