Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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

Food Bank springs for year-round assistance

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
 
Next-generation GMOs: Pink pineapples and purple tomatoes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Dismal snowpack gets one more measure

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Funding sought for slain vet student’s pets

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

 
Woodland Library’s community room reopens

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Museum celebrates Easter with candy-filled eggs

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Easter egg hunt set Sunday at Atria

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

AquaMonsters open summer registration

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
UCD gets grant to look at open access to published research

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

Odd Fellows will host a big birthday bash

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
Tamblyn presents a comedy concert

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Cancer fighters will gather Saturday for Relay For Life kickoff

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
Poet laureate emerita celebrates at book-release party

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

AARP’s free tax-prep services continue

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
Round up at the registers for Davis schools

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

‘Sip and Shop’ kicks off Child Abuse Prevention Month

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
Seniors invited to join new social group

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

Pain management lecture slated April 8

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

 
Pence Gallery: See artists at work during Garden Tour

By Natalie Nelson | From Page: A10 | Gallery

.

Forum

Bicycle bells are my birthday wish

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: B4

Shootings showed need for MRAP

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

 
Program sparks lots of questions

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

Is Davis on the cusp of an evolutionary change?

By Rich Rifkin | From Page: B4

 
Will containers block cyclists’ path?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

We have no room for another cart

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

 
This is no way to run a city

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

Get informed on organics program

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

 
Groom’s parents overwhelmed

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

.

Sports

Descalso looks back at Aggie days, ahead to new Rockies gig

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Blue Devils drop softball game at CBS

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Aggies get ready for Hawaii by rolling over St. Mary’s

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
UC Davis represents well at Final Four in Indiana

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
JV/frosh roundup: DHS younger girls soccer squad stomps Grant

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

UCD roundup: Nunez powers Aggies to softball win

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
Gibson’s heroics ensure a DHS split at Boras Classic

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B10

.

Features

Spring is a busy time for honey and hives

By Dan Kennedy | From Page: A8 | Gallery

 
.

Arts

 
Fiery bluesman brings guitar pyrotechnics to The Palms

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
Bluesman and guitarist Buddy Guy comes to Davis

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

.

Comics