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100 Year Drought Caused Mayans' Demise?

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posted on Mar, 14 2003 @ 04:36 PM
A study of southern Caribbean sediments suggests that a centurylong dry spell may have been the killing blow in the demise of the Mayan civilization that once built pyramids and elaborate cities in Mexico.

Konrad A. Hughen, a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said sediments from the Cariaco Basin in northern Venezuela clearly record a long dry siege that struck the entire Caribbean starting in about the seventh century and lasting more than 100 years.

Within this dry period, said Hughen, there were years of virtually no rainfall. It was in those periods of extra dryness, he said, that the Mayan civilization went through a series of collapses before its final demise. Hughen is co-author of a study appearing Friday in the journal Science.

Hughen said the Maya flourished in what is known as the pre-classic period before 700 A.D., building cities and elaborate irrigation systems to support a population that soared above a million. The civilization collapsed and many of the sites were abandoned early in the 800s. They were later reoccupied only to collapse again, with some cities deserted in 860 and others in 910.

"Those abandonments occur synchronously with the timing of the droughts in our record (from the sediments), suggesting the droughts were causing those events," said Hughen.

The sediment records show that the gradual drying started about 1,200 years ago, but there was still enough rain for the Mayans to flourish.

Mayan communities in the southern and central lowlands collapsed first, while those in the northern highlands lasted for another century before the final collapse.

"The northern areas had access to more ground water resources," said Hughen. "They were able to weather the first and second dry periods, but not the third."

T. Patrick Culbert, a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona and a noted authority on the Mayan culture, said the climate study offers a plausible explanation of what happened to the Mayans.

"They were so vulnerable that anything could have knocked them over," said Culbert. "If there were these severe droughts, it would have been a disaster for them."


posted on Mar, 14 2003 @ 04:42 PM
that seems a reasonable theory - any ideas as to whether there were any survivors and where they may have ended up? Guess that without cities and plenty of artifacts it's hard to track a tiny population.

posted on Mar, 14 2003 @ 05:08 PM
I've seen a recent documentary that provides convincing archeological evidence of very large and sophisticated cities / settlements in Southern Mexico and Gutamela - that were completely abandoned suddenly. As to where those people might have moved to is open to specualtion. Wherever plentiful water, food and wildlife could be found - there would probably spring up settlements. Considering how advanced the Mayans were and that there's no record of them having been over run by invading tribes, a natural disaster makes perfect sense.

The same theory is also applied to the Moche people of ancient Peru, except their disaster was sudden floods.


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