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There has always been speculation about what killed off the Mayan people. Hollywood would have us believe that it was perhaps a meteor or massive earthquakes. But scientists have discovered that it just might be something much more mundane and much more frightening: global warming.
We have long understood that Mayan culture went through cycles of growth and contraction, beginning in about 1,800 B.C., and ending around 1,000 A.D. What has eluded scientists, until now, is just what caused these cycles. Climate change has often been suggested, but confirming the theory has been difficult because Mayans had disturbed the traditional methods of looking at climate cycles, such as lakebeds in the area.
Instead, scientists decided to look at stalagmites in caves, which are far less vulnerable to disturbance. Anthropologist Douglas Kennett from Penn State University and a team of researchers from around the world examined stalagmite growth layers in the jungles of Belize, which reveal periods of drought. These drought periods appear to coincide directly with periods of war and contraction in Mayan society. The most prolonged and severe period of drying corresponds directly with the end of Mayan civilization.
Climate change skeptics will surely point out that the Mayans didn’t cause climate change, and that it must be part of a natural cycle. But there’s a major distinction between what happened then and what’s happening now: Research shows that the Mayan drought occurred over centuries, while the warming we’re experiencing now is an abrupt change that tracks directly with scientific climate models of man-made warming.
via Time Magazine