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Study: Mayans were wiped out by drought, climate change

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The world did not end on December 21 last year, which was suggested by the ancient Mayan calendar. Scientists now say that the Mayan calendar was - in another way, quite accurate about predicting the end of the Mayan civilization. According to new research, Maya culture collapsed a thousand years ago because it failed to cope with climate change. Instead of a cosmic cataclysm, Mayan life was wiped out by drought, researchers say.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Scientists reanalyzed a wooden beam from a Guatemalan temple, originally radiocarbon-tested in 1960.

The Mayans had developed a sophisticated society, accurate calendars and complex architecture. Mayans thrived during rainy periods but a prolonged drought somewhere between 800 and 1100 A.D. is said to have brought about its collapse.

Experts had long struggled to match dates from the Mayan Long Count calendar with the modern European calendar. The Long Count system comprised 20-day cycles made up of k'in, which formed 360-day cycles known as tuns. It was only after another unit, b'ak'tun, represented a cycle of 400 years, and it was the ending of one of these that led to the belief of the apocalypse in 2012.

Archaeologist Douglas Kennett from Pennsylvania State University applied modern carbon dating methods to a lintel, carved with historical records, found at Tikal, which was a major Mayan city.

Kennett wished to verify the accuracy of the dating: 50 years ago, as other researchers at the university reckoned the beam had been carved between AD 695 and 712.

"When looking at how climate affects the rise and fall of the Maya, I began to question how accurately the two calendars correlated using those methods," Kennett said.

Kennett and his team looked at the tree rings in the wood. The date they arrived at was around AD 658-696, which backed up the original correlation estimates.

These two estimates match up even more closely after factoring in the removal of ten to 15 years of wood growth while the carving took place.

The lintel they analyzed concerned the defeat of Tick'aak K'ahk', king of the nearby city of Calakmul, by Tikal's leader Jasaw Chan K'awiil. This discovery re-confirmed the theory that the victory was in 695 A.D., 13 years after Jasaw Chan K'awiil took to the throne.

"These events and those recorded at cities throughout the Maya lowlands can now be harmonized with greater assurance to other environmental, climatic and archaeological datasets," researchers wrote.
 
The findings were compared against a so-called "war index," the dates of hostile events which Maya people recorded on stone monuments. It was found that war and unrest matched periods of drought.

Conversely, during periods of plentiful rain, the Maya civilization expanded into large cities.

As recently published in the journal Science, the study described how Maya rulers commissioned monuments to record events and the research team found the frequency of texts carved in stone indicating rivalry, war and alliances increased significantly between 660 and 900 A.D., during the drying trend.

"It is not just climate drying and drought that is important, but the preceding conditions that helped stimulate societal complexity and population expansion," Kennett says. "This set the stage for societal stress and the fragmentation of political institutions later in time as conditions became drier."

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