The Great Mayan Empire is one of the most well known ancient empires of Mesoamerica. This civilization achieved the stage of development which was not known before. The great monuments and cities, science of astronomy and math – these cultural peculiarities show the great essence of that empire. Situated mostly on the Yucatan peninsula, it spread its influence all over the continent. ”At their peak around 900 A.D., Maya cities teemed with more than 2,000 people per square mile” (Coulter, 2009, para. 1).
The Mayan calendar is well known all over the world and it is not the only invention in the list. The art of ancient Maya still impresses the imagination of people by its greatness and queerness. The famous Mayan pyramids, as El Castillo, make the keen rivalry to the Egypt Pyramids and astonish the tourists and scientist all over the world. The ruins of Tikal, the main Mayan city, in Guatemala shows the architecture and the scope of the ancient builders – even now it is difficult to create the city like this.
Having achieved the highest level of development and dominating in the ancient world they were expected to enter the Golden Age. But suddenly, in the short period of time, the Great Mayan Empire disappeared. It had not left any obvious evidences of its collapse, giving the scientists of nowadays the great puzzle to solve. The Maya civilization is one of the most mysterious enigmas of modern age.
The great mystery gives rise to the great number of different investigations of its nature. This one is not an exception. There have been a lot of theories of the Mayan Empire collapse throughout the history of the investigation of this question. We are going to analyze some of them.
The first version is expounded in the article The Fall of the Maya: “They Did it to Themselves” by Dauna Coulter. The main idea of the article can be understood from its title – the ancient Maya were guilty for the extinction of their Empire. The author of the article is the adherer of so called environmental theory.
She states that the main factor, influencing the blistering collapse of the ancient culture, was the draught, triggered by the great change in the environment, where ancient Maya lived. Being the agricultural society, they depended heavily from the harvest of corn, which was their main culture. The draught led to the great decrease of the harvest, causing hunger and economic decline which led to the fall of the Maya.
However, the draught was not the chance phenomenon of nature. It was caused by the mass deforestation of the area, where Maya lived. They used the wood for their own purposes – building their homes, monuments, temples and ships for sea-trade. Nevertheless, trying to make their life better, they did not care about the environment. The disappearance of the trees influenced the climate of the whole area greatly.
The author of the article also made some experiments in order to supply her theory with reliable evidence. Her team simulated the total deforestation of the area. “The results were eye opening. Loss of all the trees caused a 3-5 degree rise in temperature and a 20-30 percent decrease in rainfall” (Coulter, 2009, para. 9). This factor, combined with slash-and-burn agriculture of Maya, did not give the forests any chance to restore and only approached the collapse.
However, the change in the environment is not the only version nowadays, though it is very popular and has a lot of adherers. The other version is presented in the short overview of the Mayan history on History.com. After the short description of the culture and traditions of this ancient folk the article comes to the conclusion that it was not only the change in the climate that influenced its collapse, though it definitely was one of the factors.
It is suggested in the work to consider the assemblage of the factors which influenced the decline of the Empire. First of all, it is, of course, the weather change. However, the “constant warfare among competing city-states” (Maya, 2009, para. 15) should also be mentioned. At the peak of the development each Mayan city presented itself an independent structure with its own leaders and interests, which submission to someone was rather formal.
Each city wanted to play the leading role in the Empire, determining its policy and that is why a lot of civil skirmishes appeared. In its turn it damaged the principles of dynastic power and led to some chaos in the relationships, destroying the traditional economic relationship to. The third reason in the list is the fast pace of the growth of population.
The cities were overflowed, the fields were not able to provide food for everyone anymore and in the combination with the declining climate and the draught, the situation became even more pernicious. The draught also caused another problem – the lack of potable water, as in big cities, like Tikal, the rains were the only source of it.
As it becomes obvious “all three of these factors–overpopulation and overuse of the land, endemic warfare and drought–may have played a part in the downfall of the Maya in the southern lowlands” (Maya, 2009, para. 20).
Having analyzed the evidences given the texts, it is possible to come to some conclusions. The fact of the pernicious influence of the deforestation on the Mayan Empire could not be doubted. Moreover, the experiment, made by the author, confirms it. The weak point of any agricultural society is its great dependence from the climate and the harvest of the crops.
The ancient Maya destroyed the basis of their developed society by unreflecting slash of forests. Being usually described as people living in harmony with the nature (Coulter, 2009) they, however, gave us the bright example of the aftermaths of the consumer attitude to the nature – even the highly developed society could not survive the great change in the environment. Being rather convincing, this theory, however, seems to be not so complete as the second one.
The combination of destructive factors seems to be more obvious reason for the decline of the mighty Empire. Heavily-populated cities needed food and material support that is why more and more areas became deforested, though not being able to feed all people. Local wars for the better conditions, food supply and new areas just made the thing worse – the Mayan Empire, weakened by all these factors, did not survive.
Being one of the most interesting and civilized states of the region, the Mayan Empire, however was not able to guarantee its further existence and collapsed, having left more questions than answers.
Coulter, D.(2009). The Fall of the Maya: ‘They Did it to Themselves’.