Mayans appear to have been done in by a series of severe droughts, and archaeologists now think that something called a "drought cult" sprang up when things were most desperate, reports National Geographic. Researchers led by Lisa Lucero of the University of Illinois have found a water temple in the forest of Belize at which Mayans from all over Central America left offerings to their gods with one plea in mind: Make it rain. "The pilgrims came there to purify themselves and to make offerings," says Lucero. "It was a special place with a sacred function."
In a soon-to-be-published report in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Lucero and a co-author will report that offerings at the Cara Blanca temple increased as the Mayan drought widened. The empire disappeared about 800AD, and previous research suggests a fateful twist preceded the collapse: Long before the droughts appeared, "high rainfall likely led to a Maya population boom" that lasted until 660AD, reports the Geographic. "That in turn set up their kingdoms for a fall when the rain stopped." (An explorer recently found a Mayan "monster mouth city.")