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The Mayan civilization was an ancient Mesoamerican civilization that started to develop in 2000 BC. During the Terminal Classic Period (750-950 AD) the civilization began to disintegrate and finally disappeared. The reasons for the decline still remain unclear. That is why the Mayan’s disappearance is considered as a “mystery.” Several scientific theories propose possible explanations of the “mystery,” including environmental unsuitability and climate changes (drought). Although the environmental hypothesis is accepted by several scientists, the drought theory seems to be more reasonable because more discovered facts and climate reconstructions supported it.
The Environmental Hypothesis
According to the hypothesis, the main reason for the Mayan civilization collapse was caused by unsuitable environmental recourses use. Mayan people lived with a strong connection to nature. However, civilization was growing fast and required more and more resources for living. Mayan people destroy tropical forests because they needed wood and land for agriculture. People’s agricultural systems might lead to soil exhaustion. Therefore, natural sources, in particular, forests and fertile soil, started to decrease which resulted in the social collapse and civilization decline. Moreover, it was stated that the insufficient agricultural system might lead to climate changes, in particular, to the drought level increase. The evidence of Mayan relationship with nature and its possible results was obtained by the modeling process (Heckbert, Costanza, & Parrott, 2014).
The Drought Theory
The drought theory of the Mayan civilization’s disappearance is commonly accepted among scientists (Heckbert et al., 2014). According to this theory, the Mayan people’s life significantly depended on the water supply. Tropical rains were the most important source of water. Rapid climate changes due to the several years of drought were the reason for the Mayan civilization’s socio-economic changes. The drought resulted in the less agricultural harvest and, correspondingly, in the people’s starvation and population decrease. Therefore, the drought theory could be considered as the most reasonable for explaining the Mayan civilization’s disappearance mystery.
Reasons for the Drought Theory Acceptance
Nowadays, the drought theory is considered as the most reasonable by a lot of scientists. To confirm this theory, several investigations were performed. Climate reconstructions were the most important of them. Analysis of sediment layers provided an opportunity to estimate the temperature and the level of rainfall. This reconstruction proved that severe drought periods occurred during the Terminal Classic Period. Importantly, the time connection between drought periods and evidence of Mayan civilization collapse was shown. It could be considered as the first strong evidence in support of this theory.
Second, to accept the drought hypothesis, it is important to prove the significance of water for the Mayan civilization. It was shown that the Maya civilization created a system of management and control of water sourced. Clean water sources controlling was important for the social and political structure of the Mayan population organization. Therefore, drought periods caused not an only agricultural crisis and a small harvest but also a political crisis. It could be supposed that the Mayan people started to be unsatisfied with the existed political system and to blame their political leaders in the crisis. As a result, the social and political collapse of the society developed (Douglas et al., 2015). The estimated connection between a water-supply system and Mayan social and political collapse might be considered as the second strong evidence in support of the drought theory.
Two most reasonable hypotheses of Mayan civilization’s disappearance were examined: the drought theory and the environmental theory. The drought theory was considered more reliable due to the presence of strong empirical evidence in its support while strong reasons for an environmental crisis during the Terminal Classic Period were not found. Therefore, it could be concluded that the drought hypothesis could be a probable explanation of the Mayan civilization collapse “mystery.”
Heckbert, S., Costanza, R., & Parrott, L. (2014). Achieving sustainable societies: Lessons from modelling the ancient Maya. Solutions Journal, 5, 55-64.
Douglas, P. M., Pagani, M., Canuto, M. A., Brenner, M., Hodell, D. A., Eglinton, T. I., & Curtis, J. H. (2015). Drought, agricultural adaptation, and sociopolitical collapse in the Maya lowlands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(18), 5607-5612. Web.