Environmental Factors That Contributed To The Mayan Collapse

Submitted By tmb777
Words: 2579
Pages: 11

Tricia Benton
Professor Craig
Final Paper
Environmental Factors that Contributed to the Mayan Collapse “For 1200 years, the Maya dominated Central America. At their peak around 900 A.D., Maya cities teemed with more than 2,000 people per square mile… in rural areas the Maya numbered 200 to 400 people per square mile. But suddenly, all was quiet. And the profound silence testified to one of the greatest demographic disasters in human prehistory -- the demise of the once vibrant Maya society” (Coulter 2009). The Mayan civilization lasted for about 2000 years, starting from the Preclassic (1800 B.C. to A.D.200) through the Classic (A.D 200-800) and ending in the ninth century of the Late Classic period. The last writing from this civilization dates to A.D. 909. At its peak the Mayan society built some of the largest temple pyramids in the world, established a writing system, and calendar system. The Maya were skilled farmers and artisans whose murals and vase paintings truly captured the royal families and the rituals associated with their society. According to Susan Evans book Ancient Mexico and Central America: Archaeology and Cultural History the “situation known as the Mayan Collapse” was inevitable “After centuries of reworking the landscape with hydrological projects and effigy mountains - pyramids and temples – dedicated to gods and dynasts…calendrical ceremonies after raising a forest of king-effigies as stelae, Classic Maya rulers of the southern lowlands came to the end of their resources, and elite life disintegrated in the 9th century” (pg. 328). Many scholars have surmised that the collapse was not just due to one major catastrophic event, but instead a culmination of events that came together much like a “perfect storm” (Craig’s PPT Terminal Classic Lowland Maya, slide 2). This paper attempts to focus purely on the environmental issues related to the collapse which included intense drought, soil erosion, deforestation, and most importantly, and as a result of the aforementioned issues, was there agricultural elimination of major food sources that were elemental to the Mayan civilizations sustainability. According to Vernon Scarborough article “Flower Of Power: Water Reservoirs Controlled The Rise And Fall Of The Ancient Maya” he contends that, though very much ingenious were the water control systems established in cities like Tikal, they were also detrimental in the fact that they were used more as political perks than just for necessity purposes. Scarborough contends that rulers had first pick at the water from these reservoirs and would use it for favors and political clout. He goes on to suggest that since the systems were originally designed as a backup plan in case of drought and during the dry season, this wasteful and irresponsible use of the such a precious and finite resources could lead to social uprisings and unrest. Scarborough states that “ a civilization so heavily dependent on rainfall would have been severely tested by droughts—induced, perhaps, by a broad shift in climate, or exacerbated by overpopulation…”(pg.7). Scarborough does not contend that drought was the sole factor, but that and interplay between social and political variables. Evan’s also concurs with Scarborough when she suggests: Given the role of kings as exhaled shamans, projecting an ability to contact and influence the spirit world, interpreting the workings of the heaven, it is no wonder that when the lives of the people began to degrade, along with the milpas, confidence in kings would erode as fast as soil off the slopes of the Copan Valley. Maya commoners may have had an “earthly skepticism” about the infallibly of their rulers…as the foundation stones of the society became dislodged, the whole structure fell (Evans 354).

These sentiments are also echoed in the words of another scholar named Tom Abate. Tom Abates’ article “Climate and the Collapse of Civilization” reiterates the ideas of Scarborough in