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Politics affected by climate: Drought killed Mayan culture

The main temple at the Pre-Columbian Mayan site of Tulum, built on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea, in the Mexican state of  the main temple at the Pre-Columbian Mayan site of Tulum, built on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo (AFP Photo / Cris Bouroncle)
Extreme weather conditions and drought are to blame for the collapse of the Mayan culture and people. Scientists were able to link together precise climatic records and political history of the ancient civilization.

­A team of scientists from Pennsylvania State and the University of Durham has come up with a high-resolution climate record dating back over 2,000 years.

The findings of their study, published in the journal Science, show how Maya political systems developed and disintegrated in response to climate change.

“The rise and fall of Mayan civilization is an example of a sophisticated civilization failing to adapt successfully to climate change,” Dr James Baldini, of the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University explained.

“Periods of high rainfall increased the productivity of Maya agricultural systems and led to a population boom and resource overexploitation. The progressively drier climate then led to political destabilization and warfare as resources were depleted.”

“After years of hardship, a nearly century-long drought from 1020 sealed the fate of the Classic Maya,” the scientist confirmed.

The scientists came to the conclusion when comparing the political histories carved on stone monuments to their rainfall findings.  

 “Unusually high amounts of rainfall favored an increase in food production and an explosion in the population between AD 450 and 660″, Redorbit quoted the Professor of Anthropology at Penn State, Dr. Douglas Kennett, as saying.

“This led to the proliferation of cities like Tikal, Copan and Caracol across the Maya lowlands. The new climate data show that this salubrious period was followed by a general drying trend lasting four centuries that was punctuated by a series of major droughts that triggered a decline in agricultural productivity and contributed to societal fragmentation and political collapse. The most severe drought (AD 1020 and 1100) in the record occurs after the widespread collapse of Maya state centers (referred to as the Maya collapse) and may be associated with widespread population decline in the region.”

“Over the centuries, the cities suffered a decline in their populations and Maya kings lost their power and influence” Dr. Kennett added.

“The linkage between an extended 11th century drought, crop failures, death, famine and migration in Mexico provides a historic analog, supported by the cave stalagmite samples, for the socio-political tragedy and human suffering experienced periodically by the Classic Period Maya.”