What Caused The Fall of the Mayan Civilization?

I was watching a video about the excavation of a Mayan temple in the Yucatan Peninsula-it impressed me how large the structure was. It also looked like there was a fair sized city nearby-now covered in jungle. Which raises the question: for hundreds of years, the mayans lived in settlements and cities in thgis region-and in fairly high population densities…then they vanished.
Experts have postulated that the collpase happened because of diseases, or exhaustion of the soil…or possibly war with the Aztecs (or some other tribe).
Is it possible that in Mayan times, the climate of the Yucatan was more temperate? I’m thinking of a climate that would have made the region more like savannah type plains, capable of intensive cultivation and or grazing for animals.
If the climate then became wetter and hotter, perhaps the plains/grasslands changed to jungle, and intensive agriculture would have become impossible-hence the depopulation and end of the Mayans.What are the current theories on this?

Wasn’t it those Spanish dudes?

Well, the Aztecs didn’t rise until centuries after the Mayan civilization vanished, so I doubt they were involved!

According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_civilization) :rolleyes:

“Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into several subcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change. There is evidence that the Maya population exceeded carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and overhunting of megafauna. Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to the collapse of Maya civilization.The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds, ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community.”

I’m guessing that old world “germs” had something to do with it…

In the 9th century? How did they get across the ocean?

My medium was telling me it’s because we all have it wrong - their calendar ran out in 912 not 2012. Bad math apparently.

Just wanted to point out that this is a bit of an exaggeration. They declined and suffered a population crash, but they didn’t vanish. The Spaniards were still trying to subdue the Itza and Ko’woj Maya of the Peten Basin until late into the 17th century. Tayasal and the surrounding communities weren’t finally conquered until 1697.

The major Maya cities (like Tikal and Palenque) were abandoned centuries before the Spanish or even the Aztecs arrived in Mesoamerica. It was only in the nineteenth century that archaeologists began uncovering those sites, which had been almost entirely reclaimed by the jungle since the 10th century (although, as Tamerlane so justly points out, the Maya as a people did NOT disappear–it’s these major urban centers that we’re talking about). So it’s impossible that the fall was due to contact with Aztec or European diseases, although it’s possible that disease was spread by other sources, maybe the Toltecs (though very little is known with any certainty about the Toltecs, even less than the Maya).

I learned in college that the Classic Maya collapse resulted from over-reliance on slash-and-burn techniques of agriculture, with the soil becoming too exhausted to support large urban populations. Judging by that wikipedia entry, it sounds like archaeologists still cite ecological factors, though the drought theory appears to have gained ground. But really, nobody knows for certain what caused the collapse.

By the way, I don’t think anyone believes the climate of the Classic Maya Yucatan was that much different from how it is today. And even if it were, they wouldn’t have had large livestock to graze upon the land–remember, there were no cattle, horses, pigs, etc. in the New World prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

I’m not supposed to say but - it was me. Pleast don’t tell anyone

It’s not hard to find Mayans even today. Well, strictly speaking, they might not meet some ethnographic definitions of the Classical Mayans. That said, rural Yucatan Mexicans are distinctly different from Mexicans from other regions. The most obvious visual difference is in stature(*), but they retain traces of pre-Spanish culture and languages even today.

Another facet of the ecological collapse theories is the near-absence of surface water sources. Most of the Yucatan is limestone with very thin soil. Natural cenotes are the only source of fresh water other than rainfall, which quickly seeps away. The Classic Mayan civilization was probably riding on the thin edge of disaster for a long time.

(*)Which always leaves me gobsmacked after climbing one of those pyramids. I’m 6’1", and climbing those steps is no easy feat. It’s nigh-inconceivable that their priests used to climb those things wearing outlandish headdresses and maintain any kind of dignity.

Huh…I always thought it was due to critical water shortages due to extended drought conditions that stressed their system to the breaking point and caused them to fragment (a lot of those Meso-American civilizations were put together as empires of conquered peoples loosely knit together into the semblance of a whole, but with deep fracture lines under the surface).


Maybe they got carried or hoisted up instead? Although I have a hard time seeing how falling off the pyramid in a litter would be much more dignified either.

The Maya world was always “fragmented” & never a united empire. Since their language was deciphered, we’ve been learning a lot about their history.

This book was quit fascinating. My long-ago Intro to Archaeology teacher managed to make Mesoamerican archaeology dull. But I absorbed enough to appreciate what has been learned since then.

I think people whose only means of transportation was walking were in much better condition than we are now. They probably didn’t think much of the climb.

I don’t think it has much to do with being in shape: those steps are very steep, I understand, and short legs make steep steps awkward.

They even identify themselves as Mayans. A hotel manager told me there that aside from having a labor shortage for the unskilled jobs there, a large portion of the available applicants don’t even know how to speak Spanish – they speak a Mayan dialect.

Exactly, I climbed El Castillo back when you were still allowed to some 15 years ago when I was in respectable shape, and that was no easy trip. I basically had to crab-step my way up in order to fit my feet on the steps. Nohoch Mul at Coba is even steeper, with even higher steps.