Wednesday, November 26, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Extreme weather key to Maya collapse, scientists say

Stone carving of Venus symbol from Chichén Itzá in Yucatán, Mexico. Martha Macri, UC Davis/Courtesy photo

By
From page A9 | November 09, 2012 |

Decades of extreme weather crippled, and ultimately decimated, first the political culture and later the human population of the ancient Maya, according to a new study by an interdisciplinary team of researchers that includes two UC Davis scientists.

The collapse of the Maya is one of the world’s most enduring mysteries. Now, for the first time, researchers have combined a precise climatic record of the Maya environment with a precise record of Maya political history to provide a better understanding of the role weather had in the civilization’s downfall.

Their findings are published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

“Here you had an amazing state-level society that had created calendars, magnificent architecture, works of art, and was engaged in trade throughout Central America,” said UCD anthropology professor and co-author Bruce Winterhalder. “They were incredible craftspersons, proficient in agriculture, statesmanship and warfare — and within about 80 years, it fell completely apart.”

To determine what was happening in the sociopolitical realm during each of those years, the study tapped the extensive Maya Hieroglyphic Database Project, run by linguist Martha Macri, a professor of Native American studies and director of the Native American Language Center at UCD. Macri, a specialist in Maya hieroglyphs, has been tracking the culture’s stone monuments for nearly 30 years.

“Every one of these Maya monuments is political history,” Macri said.

Inscribed on each monument is the date it was erected and dates of significant events, such as a ruler’s birthday or accession to power, as well as dates of some deaths, burials and major battles. The researchers noted that the number of monuments carved decreased in the years leading to the collapse.

But the monuments made no mention of ecological events, such as storms, drought or references to crop successes or failures.

For that information, the research team collected a stalagmite from a cave in Belize, less than 1 mile from the Maya site of Uxbenka and about 18 miles from three other important centers. Using oxygen isotope dating in 0.1 millimeter increments along the length of the stalagmite, the scientists uncovered a physical record of rainfall over the past 2,000 years.

Combined, the stalagmite and hieroglyphs allowed the researchers to link precipitation to politics. Periods of high and increasing rainfall coincided with a rise in population and political centers between A.D. 300 and 660. A climate reversal and drying trend between A.D. 660 and 1000 triggered political competition, increased warfare, overall sociopolitical instability, and finally, political collapse.

This was followed by an extended drought between A.D. 1020 and 1100 that likely corresponded with crop failures, death, famine, migration and, ultimately, the collapse of the Maya population.

“It has long been suspected that weather events can cause a lot of political unrest and subject societies to disease and invasion,” Macri said. “But now it’s clear. There is physical evidence that correlates right along with it. We are dependent on climatological events that are beyond our control.”

Said Winterhalder: “It’s a cautionary tale about how fragile our political structure might be. Are we in danger the same way the Classic Maya were in danger? I don’t know. But I suspect that just before their rapid descent and disappearance, Maya political elites were quite confident about their achievements.”

Co-authors leading the study are Douglas Kennett of Pennsylvania State University and Sebastian Breitenbach of Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule in Switzerland. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the European Research Council and Alphawood Foundation.

— UC Davis News Service

Comments

comments

.

News

Fremont Weir parking lot remains closed

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1

 
Occupy movement settles in at UC Davis

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Time to give thanks for nature’s beauty

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Food fight … in a good way

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Guard reinforcements contain damage in Ferguson

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Weather affecting Thanksgiving travelers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Second cat-hoarding suspect arrested

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

LCI marks 50 years with special service

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Happy Thanksgiving from The Enterprise

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Year-end films to see, or not, on KDRT

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Girls who volunteer may apply for grant

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Round up at the registers for Davis schools

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Davis Community Gift Project brightens holidays for children

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

Speaker proposes changes in humanities doctorate

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Senior Center hosts holiday sing-along

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Sutter sponsors qigong for holiday de-stress

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Learn to use Skype at Connections Café

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Boy Scouts start Christmas tree sales on Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Volunteers needed to grow plants for habitat restoration

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Rainbow City community meeting set Dec. 1

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

 
.

Forum

She wants more from him

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

Musings in the wake of Ferguson decision

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
Rich Rifkin: Is it time to be a bear or a bull?

By Rich Rifkin | From Page: A6

Planting love at new home

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Innovation parks comparison

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

.

Sports

No excuses, but there’s hope for UCD after 2-9 season

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

 
Joseph, Manzanares lead 10 All-Big Sky Aggie picks

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

DHS wrestling is not just for boys

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Let’s not lose another good DHS coach

By Chris Saur | From Page: B1

Blue Devils prepare for a new season on the mat

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Davis Little League offers early sign-up discounts

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

 
Kings get past Pelicans

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

.

Features

Salute to non-steamed broccoli

By Dan Kennedy | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
.

Arts

It really is ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’

By Debra DeAngelo | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Death notice: Buddy Ralph Mills

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Elzyne Thompson

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Comics: Wednesday, November 26, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A9

 
.

Ready, Set, Shop!

Shop locally: You can have your pie and eat it too

By Enterprise staff | From Page: RSS1

Santa’s little helper: secrets to happy holiday shopping

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: RSS2

Make sure it gets there: deadlines for shopping and shipping

By The Associated Press | From Page: RSS2

Downtown lights up at holiday open house

By Enterprise staff | From Page: RSS3

Full of warm wishes and over-sharing, the holiday card lives on

By The Associated Press | From Page: RSS4

Shop smart: Protect your wallet and your identity this shopping season

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RSS5

Woodland celebrates the holidays downtown

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RSS5