Great civilizations are often studied by historians and scientists in order to better understand both the past and the future, but one of the most abiding mysteries has long been why the powerful and advanced Maya civilization ended. This mystery may finally have been solved after new research in the famous Blue Hole of Belize has yielded an explanation of the Maya’s fall which explores the effects of climate change on the great civilization. Samples of sediment from the sink hole reveal mineral deposits consistent with two droughts which may have caused the collapse of the civilization. This evidence supports other research on the theory which focused on drought as the primary cause of the Maya’s fall and disappearance from the Yucatan peninsula.
A severe drought is a reasonable theory for why an entire civilization could end. Lack of rain affects crop yields, which destabilize society and create unrest which can lead to famine, revolution or mass migration. That is at least one prominent theory that attempts to explain why the Maya civilization disappeared so completely from the region. After being one of the most advanced civilizations in the world, archeology shows that the great cities of the Mayans, some with populations in the millions, were suddenly deserted. With relatively scant evidence as to what caused this disappearance, scientists and researchers have been searching for concrete evidence as to the cause.
There is a certain amount of irony in finding the reason why the Maya civilization fell in a giant hole full of water, but looking for evidence in the Blue Hole off the coast of Belize makes scientific sense. As a sinkhole, it effectively trapped the sedimentary evidence of centuries as layers of rock and dirt. Researchers drilled core samples from the hole and examined the mineral composition of the various layers. In this case, a ratio of titanium to aluminum points to a drought in the ninth and 10th centuries AD. The small ratio between the two is an indicator of drought and it coincides with the times when the Maya civilization began to disappear.
A change in climate may have played a role in creating these droughts. A weather system known as the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is what usually brought the rains that residents of the Yucatan usually depended on to water their crops and make the ground fertile for planting. A shift in the ITCZ may have caused that weather system to miss the Yucatan peninsula and created drought conditions. Researchers do note that this kind of occurence may not be a complete answer to why the Maya civilization fell, but at least it was a big factor in its demise. Any underlying socio-political problems would have been made worse by the lack of food and water from the drought and hastened the end of the Mayans.
The Mayan civilization is one of the most fascinating in the history of the Americas and its influence on the world can still be felt today. The Mayan calendar is famous for its accuracy and for its prediction of the world’s end on December 12, 2012. While it proved to be wrong about armageddon, it is a still a wonder from a past culture that rivaled any other civilization history has seen. Should the Blue Hole of Belize and the evidence researchers have gleaned from it offer a correct explanation of why the Maya civilization fell, it would be a great furtherance in understanding of this mysterious history.
By Lydia Bradbury
Photo by Dennis Jarvis – Flickr License