In the history of humankind, there have existed several mysterious phenomena that have attracted many people’s interest. One of these topics of attraction is the history of Maya. This ancient Mesoamerican civilization was extinct by the beginning of the 1500s, leaving behind a rich heritage in several large stone cities in the South American rainforest.
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By origin, the Maya were one of Mesoamerica’s indigenous populations and represented a large civilized society that dominated the region throughout many centuries (“The Mayans,” 2017). Some of the occupations that the Maya practiced and developed were pottery, mathematics, the making of calendars, hieroglyph writing, art, and agriculture (“The Mayans,” 2017). The civilization continued to flourish for a long time; its history stretched throughout multiple periods, such as the Archaic, the Olmec, the Zapotec, and the Teotihuacan, to name a few (Mark, 2012). However, by 900 CE, most of the large Mayan cities were empty and abandoned.
Geographically, the ancient Maya occupied a rather large territory. In contemporary history, it belongs to a range of countries. The Mayan civilization covered the modern Mexican lands of Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan, Tabasco, and Quintana Roo. To the south, the Maya lived in the territories of modern-day Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The overall location of the Maya was divided into three major areas separated from one another: the northern lowlands (the territory of Yucatan Peninsula), the southern lowlands (the northern part of Guatemala and the nearby areas of Belize and Mexico), and the southern highlands (the southern area of Guatemala with the mountains) (“The Mayans,” 2017).
When it comes to discussing the causes of the civilization’s collapse, Jared Diamond (2011) has presented an elaborate theory in which he attributes the decline of the Mayan society to climate change. According to Diamond’s theory, the rapid growth of the Mayan civilization resulted in the maximization of its population and the need for more food, which, eventually, caused overhunting, overfishing, deforestation, and destruction the soil. As a result, the degradation of soil, water, and animal habitat led to food shortages. It was followed by wars for resources with other people groups, political instability due to the population’s dissatisfaction with their leaders, economic problems, and the forced abandonment of the previously inhabited territories (Diamond, 2011).
In particular, Maya’s main subsistence strategy was focused on the agricultural practices of growing maize and creating irrigation systems. A prolonged period of cultivating a monoculture exhausted the soil and drained water bodies; overhunting caused the larger animals to migrate to farther locations. Moreover, the Mayans did not use animal-powered plows, so their agricultural practices’ effectiveness was limited, and the diet and the humid climate prevented them from being able to withstand long periods of resource shortage (Diamond, 2011).
In conclusion, based on Diamond’s theory, it can be stated that the Mayan civilization caused its decline through the poor management of resources and an unsustainable way of life. The author used his theory to compare what happened to the Mayans to the contemporary tendencies, such as the pollution, littering, and waste of resources as a warning as to the magnitude of the potential effects they can result in for our planet.
Diamond, J. (2011). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive. London: Penguin.
Mark, J. J. (2012). Maya civilization. In Ancient History Encyclopedia. Web.
The Mayans. (2017). Web.