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Impacts of Climate Change on the Collapse of Lowland Maya Civilization

Douglas, Peter M. J. and Demarest, Arthur A. and Brenner, Mark and Canuto, Marcello A. (2016) Impacts of Climate Change on the Collapse of Lowland Maya Civilization. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 44 . pp. 613-645. ISSN 0084-6597. doi:10.1146/annurev-earth-060115-012512.

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Paleoclimatologists have discovered abundant evidence that droughts coincided with collapse of the Lowland Classic Maya civilization, and some argue that climate change contributed to societal disintegration. Many archaeologists, however, maintain that drought cannot explain the timing or complex nature of societal changes at the end of the Classic Period, between the eighth and eleventh centuries CE. This review presents a compilation of climate proxy data indicating that droughts in the ninth to eleventh century were the most severe and frequent in Maya prehistory. Comparison with recent archaeological evidence, however, indicates an earlier beginning for complex economic and political processes that led to the disintegration of states in the southern region of the Maya lowlands that precedes major droughts. Nonetheless, drought clearly contributed to the unusual severity of the Classic Maya collapse, and helped to inhibit the type of recovery seen in earlier periods of Maya prehistory. In the drier northern Maya Lowlands, a later political collapse at ca. 1000 CE appears to be related to ongoing extreme drought. Future interdisciplinary research should use more refined climatological and archaeological data to examine the relationship between climate and social processes throughout the entirety of Maya prehistory.

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Additional Information:© 2016 Annual Reviews. Review in Advance first posted online on May 11, 2016. This article was initiated and inspired by a conference held in June 2014 in Urbino, Italy: New Perspectives on Past Climate Change and Societal Disruption. The conference was supported by the Italian Ministry of Environment and Land and Sea, the University of Urbino, and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute. The authors thank Simone Galeotti from the University of Urbino for helping to organize and support the successful conference. The authors further thank Mark Pagani for proposing and reviewing the article and David Wahl, Martin Medina-Elizalde, and David Hodell for helpful conversations. The authors are not aware of any affiliations, memberships, funding, or financial holdings that might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Ministero dell'Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio e del Mare (MEIT)UNSPECIFIED
University of UrbinoUNSPECIFIED
Yale Climate and Energy Institute (YCEI)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Holocene climate change, societal collapse, paleoclimatology, archaeology, Mesoamerica
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20160531-084145859
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:67478
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:31 May 2016 23:15
Last Modified:11 Nov 2021 00:33

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