Clues about the mysterious Mayan civilization collapse may be held in the old more, study suggests

Chichen Itza Mayan Pyramid Kukulcan with new underground excavation discoveries


The innovative Mayan empire — with its impressive temples, the calendar, and the artwork — it mysteriously collapsed between the 8th and 9th centuries, causing many scholars to question how a seemingly advanced nations could essentially disappear.

For years, researchers have pointed to wars, famine, and the possibility for intruders to take over the Mayan communities. It was only in the middle of the 1990’s that archaeologists began to point to a devastating drought that the community, located on what is now known as the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

“If you have a society that is vulnerable, then many factors lead to the decline. In addition to the ecological problems, which you have to consider population pressure on the agricultural system, constant warfare, changing trade routes and the possibility of drought and other climatic factors,” archaeologist Jeremy Sadloff told The New York Times in 1995.


A new study in Science Thursday confirmed Sadloff the decades-old presumption, and the first concrete evidence of how serious the drought from 800 to 1000 A. D.

Samples taken of the sediment deposited under Lake Chichancanab, scientists were able to confirm that a 41 to 54 percent reduction of annual rainfall over a period of 200 years. During the peak drought, there was almost 70 percent rainfall decrease, according to the study. Humidity decreased between 2 and 7 percent in that time.

“This collapse is a well-cited example of how in the past the climate change —in this case, drought can disrupt a population,” the study states.


Nick Evans, the lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, told The Washington Post, researchers studied the layers of mud, clay, rock and other minerals found, inter alia, with the help of isotope analysis — a technique that is used for the identification of chemical substances in organic and inorganic compounds.

“The drought has the potential to be a driving force behind many of the problems which is the cause of civilization stress.”

– Nick Evans

Evans and his colleagues studied different layers of the earth, to search for evidence of a drought, such as evidence of gypsum crystals.

“We reconstructed the past isotopic composition of the water in Lake Chichancanab, Mexico, using a technique of isotopic analysis of the structurally bound water in sedimentary gypsum, which was deposited under drought. The triple oxygen and hydrogen isotope data provide a direct measure of the past changes in lake hydrology,” the authors of the study explained.

Now, researchers are trying to determine how much impact the drought had on the local agriculture.

“The drought has the potential to be a driving force behind many of the problems which is the cause of civilization stress,” Evans told The Washington Post, adding that ancient civilizations are not the tools or technology we have today to combat severe drought.

Jennifer Earl is an SEO editor for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @jenearlyspeakin.

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