It appears that severe drought led to the demise of one of the world’s most highly developed ancient civilizations, as new research shows that changing climate and dry conditions may have led to famine and fighting in South America’s Mayan civilization. LiveScience reports that minerals taken from the Great Blue Hole, the Mayan’s famous underwater cave located in what is now Belize (along with other lagoons) indicate that an “extreme drought occurred between A.D.800 and A.D. 900, right when the Mayan civilization disintegrated.” The Mayans moved north when the rains returned but then disappeared again after another drought, according to the sediment. Andre Droxler, an earth scientist at Rice University, said that this new data confirms previous research, which indicated drought and dry spells caused the Mayan culture to collapse.
According to LiveScience, “The main driver of this drought is thought to have been a shift in the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ); a weather system that generally dumps water on tropical regions of the world while drying out the subtropics. During summers, the ITCZ pelts the Yucatan peninsula with rain, but the system travels farther south in the winter. Many scientists have suggested that during the Mayan decline, this monsoon system may have missed the Yucatan peninsula altogether.”
In order to locate the signs of drought, researchers drilled into the walls of the Blue Hole of Lighthouse lagoon, as well as Rhomboid reef, withdrawing core samples to study. Droxler and his colleagues then studied the chemical composition of the samples, particularly the ratio of titanium to aluminum. When the rains fall, Droxler said, the volcanic rocks that contain titanium are eaten away. So, dry periods have more titanium. Between A.D. 800 and A.D 1000, Droxler’s team found that there were only one or two tropical cyclones every two decades as opposed to the usual five or six.
This is not the first time that climate change has been suggested as the reason for the fall of the Mayan civilization. Skeptics often point to such factors as a reason why current climate change activity could not possibly be man made. However, the research shows clearly that this change in climate and the fall of the Mayan culture as a whole occurred over hundreds of years—whereas most current climate change issues have occurred over the last 50-75 years.