Mild drought killed Maya civilisation - study

2012-02-24 09:32

Washington - The collapse of the Mayan civilisation was likely due to a relatively mild drought, much like the drier conditions expected in the coming years due to climate change, scientists said.

Scholars have long believed that a major drought brought on severe dry conditions killed off the ancient culture known for its mastery of language, mathematics and astronomy.

But researchers from the Yucatan Centre for Scientific Research in Mexico and the University of Southampton in Britain said their analysis shows the drought only caused reductions of 25% to 40% less annual rain.

The smaller amounts of rain meant that open water sources in pools and lakes evaporated faster than could be replaced by more precipitation, said the study in the journal Science.

"The data suggest that the main cause was a decrease in summer storm activity," said co-author Eelco Rohling of the University of Southampton.

Water shortages

The study is the first of its kind to attempt to assess exactly how much rainfall decreased between 800 and 950 AD when Mayan civilisation went into decline, and bases its modelling data on records of past rainfall changes from stalagmites and shallow lakes.

The analysis showed that modest dry spells could have sparked major water shortages in an area with no rivers, and no source of water other than rain.

"Summer was the main season for cultivation and replenishment of Mayan freshwater storage systems and there are no rivers in the Yucatan lowlands," added Rohling.

"Societal disruptions and abandonment of cities are likely consequences of critical water shortages, especially because there seems to have been a rapid repetition of multi-year droughts."

International experts have predicted that similar dry spells in the Yucatan region are on the way due to climate change.

While modern societies are expected to be better equipped to handle drought, risks remain, said lead author Martin Medina-Elizalde of the Yucatan Centre for Scientific Research in Mexico.

"What seems like a minor reduction in water availability may lead to important, long-lasting problems. This problem is not unique to the Yucatan Peninsula, but applies to all regions in similar settings where evaporation is high."

  • Michael - 2012-02-24 09:52

    Okay Weird.... A civilization that predicted the "end of the world in 2012" could not foresee this happening.

      daryltt - 2012-02-24 10:20

      haha! Good point!

      mbongenia - 2012-02-24 10:49

      its possible that they could have foreseen it but dd not hv the means of storing H2O

      Nick - 2012-02-24 11:33

      They never predicted any such thing. That's what a part of today's society (thankfully not everyone) perceives to think the Mayans were doing according to conspiracy theorists and believers that the world is coming to an end on 21 December 2012. The Mayans merely believed that one of the great cycles would come to an end this year, at or around 20 December 2012 and that a new cycle would begin on 21 December... Hence the world continues and does not end...

  • Henri - 2012-02-24 10:19

    i would love to have a world were they survived, religion, ethics, knowledge imagine that ????

      bartosz.solodkowski - 2012-02-24 11:27

      human sacrafice ;)

      trix.duvenage - 2012-02-24 16:53

      ZOO***, Maybe you wont have to wait too long. People normally get what they really want....:-)

  • binarycape - 2012-02-24 11:21

    and the Mayans farmed extensively and close around their cities so any drought could spell ruination for such a heavily farming dependent civilisation.

  • Trudy - 2012-02-24 11:28

    Hmmmm, if they starved or dehydrated to death where's the bodies? They were a huge, powerful civilisation. Surely we would have found mass-graves or some forms of burial sites by now? I don't know if this is quite the reason for their mass-disappearance.

      Wade - 2012-02-24 13:14

      they got abducted by the aliens man! sheesh! :p

  • mariuskowie - 2012-02-24 11:40

    This is just alarmist reporting. Some pseudo scientist links his findings to the horror predictions of global warming. What a load of BS...

      TheSkepticDetective - 2012-02-24 12:18

      I have to disagree with you here. The journalism is of News24's normal low standards, but I don't see any reason to think that this study could be considered pseudoscientific.

  • jody.beggs - 2012-02-24 14:56

    And offering sacrifices,(human) into the remaining water sources, to the God's didn't really help either. Damn the man.

  • Zion - 2012-02-25 08:59

    A point of interest here is the Chacoan community of New Mexico were affected by the same or similar drought and were forced to migrate. Some authorities claim it was due to climate change while others claim it was caused by social problems and war with neighbours. Yet another group believes it was due to the internal complexity of the society as a whole. and then of course, the Spaniards came along. "Roger Lewin - Complexity."

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