What Caused Collapse Of Maya Civilization?

Posted: Jan 25 2017, 9:49am CST | by , Updated: Jan 25 2017, 9:57am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
What Caused Collapse of Maya Civilization?
Archeologists excavate the royal palace of Ceibai. Credit: Takeshi Inomata/University of Arizona

Study uncovers new clues to classic Maya Collapse

The ancient Mayan civilization was one of the most advanced societies in early history that stretched across Central and South America and reached the peak of its power around sixth century A.D. But Maya civilization suffered decline and eventually a collapse when most of its great cities were abandoned between 8 and 9 centuries.

Archaeologists have puzzled over the downfall of the Mayan civilization. Over the years, they have provided various theories about what caused the classic Maya collapse. Some suggest that that drought played a key role in the collapse, but others say that Mayans themselves contributed to their decline by cutting down forests to make way for cities. But none of these explanations can be considered definitive.

Researchers from University of Arizona suggest that a combination of factors like social instability, warfare and political crises led to the rapid decline of Maya civilization.

“It's not just a simple collapse, but there are waves of collapse. First, there are smaller waves, tied to warfare and some political instability then comes the major collapse, in which many centers got abandoned. Then there was some recovery in some places, then another collapse.” Lead researcher and University of Arizona archaeologist Takeshi Inomata said.

The findings are based on the largest set of radiocarbon dates ever obtained from a single Maya site. The site is located in Guatemala where researchers have been working for over a decade.

Using radiocarbon dating and data from ceramics, researchers were able to develop a highly refined chronology of ancient Maya civilization, its population sizes and increase and decrease of buildings in the site of Ceibai. However, latest research hints at more complex patterns that led up to two major collapses. Previous studies point to a single collapse rather than two.

“It's really, really interesting that these collapses both look very similar, at very different time periods," said co-author Melissa Burham. "We now have a good understanding of what the process looked like, that potentially can serve as a template for other people to try to see if they have a similar pattern at their (archaeological) sites in the same area.”

While the findings may not solve one of the most intriguing mysteries of ancient history, they can help better understand how the events were unfolded.

The latest research was not possible without the data from radiocarbon dating. It is a technique for determining the age of an object using its compositional properties.

“Radiocarbon dating has been used for a long time, but now we’re getting to an interesting period because it’s getting more and more precise,” said Inomata. “We are getting to the point where we can get to the interesting social patterns because the chronology is refined enough and the dating is precise enough.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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