Climate and the Collapse of Maya Civilization

Science  14 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5613, pp. 1731-1735
DOI: 10.1126/science.1080444

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In the anoxic Cariaco Basin of the southern Caribbean, the bulk titanium content of undisturbed sediment reflects variations in riverine input and the hydrological cycle over northern tropical South America. A seasonally resolved record of titanium shows that the collapse of Maya civilization in the Terminal Classic Period occurred during an extended regional dry period, punctuated by more intense multiyear droughts centered at approximately 810, 860, and 910 A.D. These new data suggest that a century-scale decline in rainfall put a general strain on resources in the region, which was then exacerbated by abrupt drought events, contributing to the social stresses that led to the Maya demise.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: haug{at}

  • Present address: Geoforschungszentrum Potsdam, D-14473 Potsdam, Germany.

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