Archeologists Think They Know What Destroyed The Mayan Empire

A massive drought hit Mexico about a thousand years ago, and the catastrophe triggered the demise of one of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations. Scientists investigating the climate of the Ancient Mayan Empire discovered that rainfall in the region reduced by 70percent and most of the states at that time was abandoned. The downfall of this great city has been a significant challenge arousing much debate around the world.  But a new team of scientists working on the Yucatan Peninsula now think they finally know what happened to the empire. Find on to find out what these Archaeologists saw.

Pulling Back The Jungle

The ruin of the empire is still very much present in Guatemala. Ever traveled to Belize or Guatemala, Southern Mexico? If yes, you are likely to have seen the ancient collapse peering at you through the greenery. A lot of people who have been to the site have no idea how the ruins of the empire came about, but research is beginning to provide answers now.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Sprouting From Trees

Like most great civilizations of the world, the Maya empire didn’t become popular in the lowlands overnight; their history dates back to 2000BC. At that time, the people were predominantly farmers, and their civilization was tied on land cultivation like that of the Middle East. The people prospered cultivating lands, and that freed up resources and labor to develop a class of civil organizers. The period in question is known as the Archaic period; it was the basis of the first Mayan Empire. What then did archaeologists find at this era?

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Layered On The Dirt

The extinction of the Mayan Empire is all the more mysterious because of the disappearance of the empire happened twice. The earliest civilization of the place took root during ancient times, and it prospered for hundreds of years. Innovations of the Mayan Empire at that time rivaled those of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. But unlike those of Egypt that depended on wheat, the Mayan Empire grew their population on the strength of agriculture producing corn, chiles, beans, and squash. Also, they began the construction of their grand temples before the empire suffered a collapse.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Rivaling The East

Although the Mayan pre-classic cities are often not considered to be on the same as those of the Near Eastern cities, they are not far from the standard. More so, the Mayan Empire even developed their writing style simultaneously with no traces of connection with those of the Eastern Hemisphere empires. The fledgling empire was the most majestic of the kingdoms uncovered in the region, yet, it suffered a collapse after the earliest years of its development. But, it would rise from the ruins to more grandeur.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Mastering The Numbers

The Mayans advanced from their approved writing style to develop a more advanced mathematical understanding. Although they might not have developed their numerical methods up till calculus level, there were undoubtedly sophisticated methods in their calculations, which is visible in their magnificent structures. The empire arguably began the use of zero before any other notable civilization in the East adopted such a concept. This fact makes the sudden fall of the empire several centuries later stir more concern.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Scrambling To Rebuild

Following the abandonment and desolation of cities in the early century of the Common Era, one would hardly believe the rise of a new and more majestic empire from the ruins. At that time, historians worked on the artifacts left of the pre-classic period, and they equally found it difficult to tell the origin of the initial collapse. It was until recently that historians started making progress about what led to the fall of the Mayan Empires.

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Overreaching Their Influence

Histories and cultures have continued to thrive about legends of fearless men who believe they could go beyond the sky. But the Mayans might not have considered that as an option, their tall monuments weren’t for such purposes of creating a name. Perhaps, they might have learned from the consequences that befell the famous tower of Babel and Icarus when they thought they could wield more power than they have. Leaving the fate of their initial collapse behind them, the Mayans went on to build more castles and developed bigger cities throughout a vast expanse of land.

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The Phoenix Reborn

By the end of the second century and the early third century, a new generation of Mayans began to leave the villages where they had retreated to build their empire. They started building new cities and expanding their territories around the pacific coast and the highlands. Mayans were no longer limited to the Yucatan Peninsula, their empire would soon thrive, but a subsequent fall of the empire would be a more magnificent catastrophe.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Lost To Time

The Mayans still inhabit their ancestral lands, but much little is known about the empire from which they once came. Histories and stories about the Mayan kingdom have been shrouded by time, but there are legends about the Mayan calendar ending in 2012. Even with many things wrapped in history about the region, the memory of the grandeur of Mayan empire lingers as more of the ruins are being found jutting out of the thick Central American Jungle.

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Catastrophe Waiting To Happen

The Mayan empire arguably developed between 250AD and 900AD. The era marked the vast growth of the Mayan cities and the commissioning of elaborate monuments and temples. Several grey stone sculptures were erected as tributes to the monarchs in charge of the cities. From the high rise buildings of the Maya, it seems they were not only interested in expanding their towns; perhaps, they also wanted to touch the sky.

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Vying For Power

Unlike other great empires of the world that have one dominant king, the Mayan empire had many Monarchs which ruled different cities. Instead, the realm is made up of a collection of great cities ruled by monarchs whose individual influence waxed stronger and waned as well as the years marched on. The big towns grew stronger by affiliating with smaller cities in the neighboring area. Although the system of governance left powers in the hands of a few monarchs, there was room for rivals to spar with each other whenever they chose.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Reaching For The Stars

Cities of the Eastern Hemisphere benefitted from the resemblance of urban planning, but those of the Mayan significantly differ from such arrangements. The Mayan cities were marked by sculptures, temples, and ceremonial courts connecting the area. Considering the people's keen interest in observing the heavens, they accorded a space at the center of their cities for astronomy towers. The towers serve as the place from which they follow changes in the celestial constellation.

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Image Credits: Google.com

Sent From The Heavens

Rulers in the Mayan Empire were seen as more than blessed being by God, they were accorded the respect of a god, and some people see them as an embodiment of a god. The system of governance had a framework which passed powers to the son of Monarchs when they passed on. As Mayans crept towards their second collapse, the monarch began to wane in power and influence due to the increasing aristocracy in the cities. The growing loss of power and control of the rulers is a likely contributing factor to the instability that would hit the foundation of the Mayan society.

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Brother Against Brother

It is not a surprise that some of the networks of connected cities of the Mayan Empire often went to war with one another. The empire had no centralized power, and the battles were to assert dominance over one another. Most of the small cities associated themselves with the larger ones for defense purposes and growth. Of course, the frequent wars didn't help in strengthening the Mayan monarchies; more importantly, it left them ill-equipped to face the trial of nature that could hit any civilization irrespective of their advancement. 

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Into Thin Air

After several years of dominance of the Mayan empire, it came as a shock to see the Central American cities fall in commerce and influence. By the end of 900AD, influential Mayan cities collapsed one after another, and the great Mayan civilization went into extinction. Although small groups in the empire survived, the few had to leave the desolate region for the north. The humbled survivors tried to at least re-establish themselves following the myths passed down through generations.

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The Final Frontier

The last of the Mayan city, Nojpeten was conquered in 1697 by Spanish forces. The town, which locates at the center of a lake in Northern Guatemala, was not a challenge for the Spanish forces to conquer even though it is surrounded by water and defensive walls. According to Nojpeten record, the city was found about 200 years before its defeat, but some have suggested the town had its root in the second Mayan empire.

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Hiding Their History

The Mayans are good with record keeping; they were fond of penning their document and histories in what they called screenfold books. Such a record have given us a first-class rated account of what life in the Mayan empire look like and their civilization that spanned hundreds of years. But that is not the case since the Spanish destroyed as many documents as they could when they conquered the territory. Lack of record has left historians in the dark about what happened in the empire centuries before their conquest.

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Gone But Not Forgotten

Although many say that the Spanish conquest resulted in the demise of the Mayan empire, it is not total eradication. Many tribes of Mayan still occupy their ancestral home, which happens to be in the Guatemala highlands. The Spanish were unable to wipe them out completely because some lived in villages taken cover from the jungle foliage. A modern group of people that speak Mayan language and practice the ancient handicraft exists today, but they know nothing about the demise of their ancestors.

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Guessing At Answers

It is still unclear what drove the Mayans from their empire back to the jungle. Before now, the explanations archeologists had for the occurrence were local warfare, natural disasters, and excess population. But, recent findings show that a series of collapses which were centuries apart might have also contributed to the occurrence. Researches are still ongoing to unravel this age-long mystery.

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Piecing It Together

The broken bits of ceramics dispersed all around the site was of interest to the team. The information gleaned from the ceramics was useful to the entire research. This information and that obtained from the team's data alongside previous researches were combined to get a better understanding of the past. It is overwhelming and impactful the useful insights the team got relating to the tides of growth and decline that Seibal underwent.

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Coming In Waves

Upon analysis of the data collected, the team discovered that there were more than just two collapses. It became clear that a confluence of events led to the tides of decline that was experienced in the Mayan empire. Explaining some of the team's discoveries in an interview with the University of Arizona newspaper, Inomata said,

What we found is that those two cases of collapse follow similar patterns.

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Spelling Their Doom

The Mayan empire did not go down totally after the main collapses. The people were able to rebuild even though they could not attain their past glory. But, the end of the empire was as a result of the Spanish that took full control later. The actual cause of the fall of the Mayan empire was hidden by the Spanish conquest, especially as it failed to provide answers to important questions.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Hanging On Till The End

It is good that the research uncovered something important about the Mayan empire. Apart from the two main collapses, there were other smaller collapses as well as recoveries that led to the end of the earlier and later Mayan civilizations. A graduate student, who was one of the authors of the paper, Melissa Burnham, stated that:

It’s really, really interesting that these collapses both look very similar, at very different time periods.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

The Lasting Consequences

Inomata's team discovery of the series of collapses of the Mayan empire and its contributing factors is applaudable. It is interesting to know is that the methodology used in this discovery applies to other researches on similar sites. In the words of Burnham,

We now have a good understanding of what the process looks like that potentially can serve as a template for other people to try to see if they have a similar pattern at their (archaeological) sites in the same area.

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Taking Down The Web

Now that the team has made a crucial development as regards the collapse of the Mayan civilization, they have been given a task to find out the cause of the different collapses that occurred. Currently, the team has dates corresponding to when there were significant growth and shrinks in the population. Nevertheless, it is still unclear the events that led to changes like these. They will rely on data they have gotten so far to formulate models that will cover the factors that might have resulted in the abandoning of the empire.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Fighting For Relevance

Before recent research and discoveries, many people believed that the disappearance of the Mayan empire resulted from an unspectacular decline. But, from the explanations of Inomata, there seems to be more. Here is what he explained:

It’s not just a simple collapse, but there are waves of collapse. First, there are smaller waves, tied to warfare and some political instability, then comes the major collapse, in which many centers got abandoned. Then there was some recovery in some places, then another collapse.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Searching For Stability

This new evidence may be pointing a finger to the political class in Mayan city then. It reveals that the leaders of the city were at loggerhead with their neighboring cities leading to warfare. No doubt, changes in leadership and political structure can make or mar a people.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Clinging To The Trees

With the uncertainty about the cause of the fallout of the Mayan empire, a new report published in 2012 may have provided some clarity. In the publication, some people believe that the civilization of the city led to deforestation. This civilization is evident in the palace, temple, and pyramid structures. The felling of more trees had to continue to provide more agricultural lands. The non-existence of the city may have resulted from this deforestation practice.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Dry As A Bone

According to the researchers, natural disaster and climate change is likely the reason beneath the collapse of the Mayan empire. They posited that their analysis of the rock layers from the city revealed that there was drought from low rainfall in the area, and it led to famine. Other climatologist submitted that the tree reduction only resulted in low rainfall, but it could not have been the only reason.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Brushing Off The Dirt

Prior to when the team led by Inomata began digging into the cause of the non-existence of the Mayans civilization, history suggests it could be traceable to a series of confluence events. Also, there were speculations that poor and unstable leadership might have contributed. However, surprising is the reaction to the findings of the team after utilizing trending technology in their quest.

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Leader Of The Pack

Takeshi Inomata led the team saddled with the responsibility of uncovering what has befallen the Mayans. He is a renowned professor of archeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona. Assisting him to unravel the mystery were some of his students and other researchers from other universities in Japan. Also, they got support from Guetemana locals, putting together phenomenal findings, which they later published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Traveling Back Through Time

To advance their observations, the team went to Mayan city in Northern Guatemala where they proceeded straight to check out a large pit known as Seibal. Mayan city has existed since 400BC, and there were times when the population there was about 10,000. The city is a choice site for the observations because it persisted for a long while, unlike its neighboring cities. On arrival at the site, the team started to sort the artifacts, which were more than a decade old.

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Technological Break Throughs

A robust dataset was at the disposal of the team at the time of concluding the research. The dataset comprises of up to 150 dates. As a result, this research is considered to be extensive. This feat was possible because of the use of radiocarbon dating. It is a tool other teams did not have the expertise to use. With the tool, this team was able to test an age-long theorem about the Mayans. Due to this achievement, the past trends in the population of the Seibal became clearer.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

Looking Past The Future

It is a great delight to see this information surface. The team is ready to search for more insights as regards to this fascinating and bizarre historical time. According to Inomata, everyone is looking forward to this beguiling period as precision increases. In his words,

We’re getting to the point where we can get to the interesting social patterns because the chronology is refined enough, and the dating is precise enough.

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Image Credits: Drivepedia.com

History had traced the collapse of the Mayan empire to series of confluence events before the research of historians in the area began. History suggests unstable leadership and communal clashes were significant to the fall of the empire. But thanks to historians and archaeologists who are utilizing trending technology to let us see that there is more to the fall of the Mayan civilization. More artifacts may be uncovered in the region leading to more facts in the nearest future. If you like this article, kindly share it with friends who enjoy reading about history and ancient civilization.