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Climate Change & The Maya

December 5, 2012

Climate change may have unraveled the sophisticated Maya empire.



Climate change and the Maya…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

For centuries, the Maya empire flourished in present-day Central America, but rapidly began to decline around 900 A.D. A new report in the journal Science suggests that climate change helped do in the great Maya cities. Penn State University environmental anthropologist Doug Kennett and his team studied cone-shaped mineral deposits, called stalagmites, in a cave in Belize.

DOUG KENNETT (Penn State University):

And you can obtain a climate record from them by using oxygen isotopes, which basically reflect the amount of rainfall at any given time.

From the stalagmites, Kennett’s team correlated the rise and fall of the Maya empire with centuries of ample rainfall, followed by a long, dry spell. Kennett argues that the drought-related crop failures may have fueled the warfare and political instability that marked the empire’s collapse. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

The North Acropolis at the Maya temple of Tikal in Guatemala. (Axcordion/Wikipedia)