News & AnalysisArchaeology

Did Pulses of Climate Change Drive the Rise and Fall of the Maya?

Science  09 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6108, pp. 730-731
DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6108.730

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Archaeologists have long puzzled over what fueled the ascent and downfall of the Maya civilization—and whether climate played a starring role, a bit part, or was offstage altogether at key turning points in Maya history. Now, an international research team has produced the best climate record yet of Maya times: a subannual reconstruction of rainfall in the Maya heartland that extends back 2000 years. Comparing this reconstruction to records of major Maya building episodes and warfare, they conclude that an extended period of generous rainfall helped spur the growth and proliferation of Maya city-states, and a prolonged dry period played a key part in their collapse. But many archaeologists remain reluctant to adopt climate as the chief driver of Maya society.

  • * With reporting by Richard A. Kerr.