Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Maya: climate change and Spanish conquest

Two interesting articles about the Maya emerged recently. The first refers to research done by Archaeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) whereby evidence indicates the Maya living in an ancient settlement of Mexico's east coast endured appallingly miserable lives during the Spanish conquest of the 16th century. 

"Found in the recently opened archaeological site of San Miguelito, in the middle of the hotel chain area of Quintana Roo, near Cancun, the human burials were excavated within 11 housing buildings dating to the Late Postclassic Mayan Period (1200 – 1550)... Archaeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) estimate that at least 30 burials belong to infants between the ages of three and six. The majority suffered from hunger and most likely died of related diseases." 

The second item refers to the research published on Science magazine and discusses the influence of climate change in the rise and fall of the Maya. See excerpt from the NYT below:

"The early classic Maya period — about A.D. 450 to 660 — “was remarkably wet,” said an author of the study, Douglas Kennett, a geo-archaeologist at Penn State. “There was a proliferation of population, an increase in agriculture and a rise in divine kings that became prominent leaders.” ... But then things dried up. The researchers compared the climate record with an existing “war index” — a log of hostile events based on how often certain keywords occurred in Maya inscriptions on stone monuments — and found a strong correlation between drought and warfare between cities. ... “About A.D. 660, you get indications of some social stress that goes up in tandem with this drying period” ... Maya cities were linked, but each operated with its own autonomous political structure. When resources were strained, the groups may have turned against one another. Over several hundred years, “the social fabric was eventually destabilized,” Dr. Kennett said. Most Maya cities collapsed between A.D. 800 and 900."

See more info about this on News Discovery, the NYT and Science 

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