Collapse of Mayan Civilization Blamed on Environmental Damage


Collapse of Mayan Civilization Blamed on Environmental Damage


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The collapse of the Mayan civilization was due to environmental damage caused by deforestation and damage to the agricultural system, a leading U.S. archaeologist said at the 3rd International Congress on Mayan Culture.

“It was a collapse and not an abandonment, because the second is temporary; while the first represents an abandonment over the long term and the destruction of the social and economic system that maintains a state, as occurred in the said region,” Dr. Richard D. Hansen said at the opening of the conference in the Caribbean city of Merida. 

Hansen, senior scientist at the Institute for Mesoamerican Research in the Department of Anthropology at Idaho State University, said that the Mayan cities of the “Pre-classic” period (1000 B.C.- A.D. 150) were “the world’s largest in terms of their volume.”

He said that these cities were “located in the Mirador-Calakmul Basin, a settled region on both sides of the border between Mexico and Guatemala.

Hansen, who is leading the Mirador Basin research project in Guatemala, said that the fall of cities including Nakbe, Wakna and Tintal occurred toward the end of the Pre-classic period due to the excessive exploitation of natural resources.

This was similar to what occurred at the end of the Classic period (A.D. 300-900) in cities such as Palenque, Copan and Tikal, due to environmental damage stemming from the excessive cutting of trees for (fuel) ... and production of stucco with which they recovered the buildings, the expert said.

He went on to say that the “‘conspicuous’ consumption of natural resources caused deforestation and damage to the agricultural system, which hindered cultivation of enough food to maintain a population that during that period reached around 1 million residents throughout the Basin.”

Hansen said that this conclusion is the product of 30 years of study during which he collected archaeological evidence, including pollen, isotopes, ceramics, among other things, that allowed him to verify the environmental depredation.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Alfredo Barrera, with the Yucatan regional division of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, said that the Mayan civilization had different processes at work within it, “taking into account that there were several collapses and several developments that occurred in that area and not only one, as was (thought) until recently, which focused on the Classic period.”

The 3rd International Congress on Mayan Culture, which is being attended by more than 200 experts, will be held through March 28 in Merida, the capital of Yucatan state. EFE