Sie sind auf Seite 1von 31


S. Leroy Teaching

Who, where, when

Their civilisation Social crash Proxies

Vegetation, lakes, marine, solar forcing

Who? The Maya Indians

Map of archaeological sites

In central America,
Guatemala, Mexico, Belize Honduras

Villages and pottery (1000 B.C.) Substantial buildings (500 B.C.) Writing (400 B.C.) Classic period (A.D. 250-850) Late Classic culture (AD 550-850): highly stratified society, vast trade networks, and widespread construction of urban centres and monumental stellae. Empire collapsed at peak intellectual and cultural development by AD 900

Language Stone-carved writing Books out of plaster and bark Belief systems Sports Mathematics Plaster-lined reservoirs & aqueducts Stratified society Complexity increasing

Developed society

Maya Environment
Seasonal tropical forest / seasonal desert Rainfall highly variable North to south of Yukatan (450 2500 mm) Elevation increases from north (25 m) to south (mountains)

Maya Food
Corn (70%), beans Stingless bee for honey Dog, Turkey, Muscovy Duck Deer, fish Overall, little meat consumption

Maya Agriculture
Slash-and-burn Terracing of hill slopes Irrigation systems, canals Draining waterlogged fields, dumping muck and water hyacinths onto fields Use canals for wild fish and turtles Other undiscovered means of intensification

Only 70% of Mayas were peasants and a Maya peasant could produce only twice the needs of himself and his family. Little protein
Corn No large animals

Relatively low productivity Humid climate => limits storing No animal power for plowing or transport



They competed by building large temple complexes, and this required the production of foodstuffs for economically unproductive workers. Eventually, food production in the peninsula declined, so it did not support the needs of the residents, and competition for food increased, turning into violence. Limitations on food supply and food transport may in part explain why Maya society remained politically organized in small kingdoms

Fragile ecosystem
Instead of attempting to adapt to changing environments, the Maya attempted to control the environment through spiritual means. As the climate cycles in the Yucatan region passed through a series of droughts, more temples were built and ceremonies were conducted to change the course of nature.

sinkhole with exposed rocky edges containing groundwater. only perennial source of potable quality water gateways to the afterlife

Population crash
Increasing population and complexity Collapse in a few decades

Late Classic Maya

Maya Collapse
Over population Social upheaval Increased warfare between kingdoms Deforestation and hillside erosion Climate change Failure of Maya to perceive and solve the problems

Tikal (Guatemala)

Vegetation changes in Peten

Wahl et al., 2006 Quaternary Research 65: 380-389

1000 cal yr BP: Terminal Classic Collapse (TC) 1800 cal yr BP: Preclassic abandonment (PA) 3450-1000 cal yr BP: decline of forest, increase of weedy taxa and magn susc 4600 cal yr BP: start decrease forest cover and first Zea

Rise and decline of agriculture


Lake Salpetn
Annual soil erosion rates are averaged over entire catchment (gray area). Black dashed line indicates lacustrine sedimentation rate at the coring site based on the applied age model. Also shown are seismic units S6S1; Maya cultural periods (EEarly; M Middle; LLate; TTerminal); Population densities of Salpetn basin alone (gray area) and combined with five other Petn basins (black dashed line); and Disturbance pollen % (e.g., grass, weeds) from analysis of drill core SP80-1 in Lake Salpetn (black line and dots), indicating replacement of regular high-forest taxa. Occurrence of Zea (corn; black arrow) indicates nearshore anthropogenic land use.

Anselmetti et al. 2007

Lake Records of Mesoamerican Climate Change

Yucatn Lakes: First solid evidence that climate change may have been implicated in collapse. Closed lake basin sediments revealed onset of sharply drier conditions between 800-1000 AD (Hodell et al., 1995). Aridity was unprecedented within the last 2000 years.

Low ratio

Oxygen isotopes in lakes

High ratio

Gypsum and drought


Isotopes in ostracods (Lake Punta Laguna, Yucatan)

Curtis et al., 1996 QR



Maya Climate Change

Relatively wet (5500 BC 500 BC) Dry (475 250 BC) Wet (250 BC AD 125) Dry (AD125 250) ... Preclassic collapses (El Mirador and other sites) (PA) Generally Wet (AD 250 760) Drought around AD 600 Decline of Tikal and other cities (Maya hiatus) Intense droughts (AD760-761, 810-820; 859-862, 907-913) 99% of southern
lowland population disappeared (TC)

Solar forcing shown by time spectral analysis

50 yr 208 yr Sediment is sensitive to changes in precipitation (18O and gypsum) Their cycles are similar to the 206 yr period in cosmogenic nuclide production (14C and 10Be). Some maxima in the 208 drought cycle = Preclassic Abandonment (PA) and Terminal Classic Collapse (TC)

Hodell et al. 2001 Science

Climate Change and Classic Maya Collapse

Dust in air > aridity

S> gypsum> aridity

(Hodell et al., 1995; Curtis et al., 1996; Thompson et al., 1994)

Venezuela deep sea basin

The Cariaco basin Ti reflects riverine input and hydrological cycle over N. tropical S. America Collapse during a prolonged drought of about 160 years (!) with three short periods of EXTREME drought which lasted 5-10 years! Trend + events =collapse

Learning outcomes
Collapse of a very advanced urban civilisation at its peak Combination of mismanagement (erosion, warfare) and droughts

Curtis J.H., Hodell D.A. and Brenner M., 1996 Climate Variability on the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico) during the Past 3500 Years, and Implications for Maya Cultural Evolution. Quat. Res. 46: 37-47. Haug G.H., Gunther D., Peterson L.C., Sigman D. M., Hughen K. A. and Aeschlimann B. 2003. Climate and the collapse of Maya civilization. Science 299, 1731-1735. Hodell, D.A., Curtis, J.H., Brenner, M., 1995 Possible role of climate in the collapse of Classic Maya civilization Nature 375: 391394. Hodell D. A., Brenner M., Curtis J. H., Guilderson T., 2001 Solar Forcing of Drought Frequency in the Maya Lowlands Science 292:1367-1370. Wahl D., Byrne R., Schreiner T., Hansen R., 2006. Holocene vegetation change in the northern Peten and its implications for Maya prehistory. QR 65: 380-389.

Soil erosion: Maya Classic P and BOP

from N. Roberts in The Holocene

The Maya clay

A photo of a sediment core with the lithology

Brenner et al., 2002

The Maya hiatus

the lowland Maya Hiatus (534 to 593 A.D.). was widespread and marked at various sites by a decline in monument carving, increased warfare, and/or demographic decline.

Hodell et al., 2007


Source ??