Do You Know What Caused The Maya Collapse? Scientists May Have An Answer

Much mystery and uncertainty surround the total decline of the once flourishing Mayan civilization in the ninth century A.D.

Credit: Takeshi Inomata/University of Arizona Credit: Takeshi Inomata/University of Arizona

Their elaborate cities and massive monuments lie mostly In ruin, having been taken over by the elements and local vegetation. An even earlier collapse has been brought to light by more recent research. This took place in the second century and even less in understood this incident. This latest study utilized the largest collection of radiocarbon dates ever taken from one Maya site.

Researchers are of the opinion that both collapses followed a similar pattern, occurring after a time of warfare, political instability and great social instability that spread throughout the civilization and resulting in the deterioration. The team, headed by researchers from the University of Arizona, has been working the archaeological site of Ceibal in northern Guatemala for over a decade.

The record-breaking collection of 154 radiocarbon dates, enabled the researchers to create an accurate the chronological timeline of the patterns that preceded both of the collapses experienced by the Maya civilization. They are referred to as the Preclassic collapse that took place in the second century A.D. as well as the better known Classic collapse that occurred seven centuries later.

Credit: Takeshi Inomata/University of Arizona Credit: Takeshi Inomata/University of Arizona

The Maya were at their peak around the sixth century A.D. and were one of the leading civilizations in Mesoamerica. There are best known for their mathematical skills, calendar-making and vast, elaborate stone cities often incorporating large, impressive stone structures. By A.D. 900 the majority of these impressive cities had been abandoned.

Speculation as to the reason for the collapse included military conflict, environmental disasters such as major droughts and overpopulation. The careful excavations and numerous radiocarbon dates conducted at the important Maya center of Ceibal gave researchers valuable insight into the dynamics of the population size as well as construction trends.

Earlier studies pointed towards a more gradual collapse whereas the new data suggests it was a lot more complex than originally thought. “It’s not just a simple collapse, but there are waves of collapse,” explained Takeshi Inomata, lead author of the study and archaeology and anthropology professor at the University of Arizona. “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.”