Did Climate Change Cause the Collapse of Classic Maya Society? Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  1036 Words
Date:  2022-11-20

Within 100 years, the people of classic Mayan who thrived and lived in present-day Central America disappeared and collapsed, who was succeeded by Post-classic Maya later. Since then, this disappearance has become the question that many archaeologists have tried answering by using different theories. Information that is gathered from the lake stalagmites and sediments in the caves found in Central America shows that climate change and drought was a significant factor that resulted in demising of the traditional Maya society. Contrary, there is archaeological evidence which suggests that it is difficult to cite climate change as the only factor that led to collapsing of the classic Maya community. The approach of climate change is commonly linked to the collapse of the Maya society as t exacerbated several issues that Maya people experienced which hastened the despising of Maya culture. This paper will discuss how climate change caused the collapse of the Classic Maya community.

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The period of classic Maya consisted of several Mayan individuals who lived within 250 CE and 1000 AD. Most of the population of Maya was living in lowlands that are known in the present day as Central America, and they were farmers as they practiced wetland agriculture. During this time, sites like Copan, Tikal, and Chichen Itza were created and used. People of Maya society would clear the vast swathes of the rainforest so that they would practice agriculture. Trade had flourished in the Maya society having different routes by water or land extending to Yucatan Peninsula and the rest of the regions where Maya stayed. The Maya political system was decentralized having no leader who reigned over Maya's entirety. The people of Maya got split into the polities which were governed by holy lords (Lucero, 2007). In many times, the sacred gods would ally to establish larger kingdoms, even though the alliances were commonly short-lived. Therefore, Maya people lived in an involved community that could be described as being politically unstable.

The archaeological evidence usually suggest that climate change had become the primary cause of demising of Maya society through paleoclimatology; the past environments' study. Many archaeologists seek to gather information about the climate from the end of the period of Classic Maya around 1000AD by use of enhanced technology (Kennett et al., 2012). Paleoclimatic study regarding climate change at the time of disappearance of the Maya society took place on Yucatan Peninsula, Peten and Belize area found in Guatemala, The paleoclimatologists led analyzing of the ratios of oxygen isotopes from the collected mineral deposits found in the lake sediments to illustrate that drought existed in 800-1000 AD. The outcomes of this approach combined with several precise oxygen isotope ratios recorded from the Yok Balum stalagmites in Belize shows that there lived two drought episodes in the selected regions. There was one extreme drought that was experienced by people of Classic Maya during 1080 AD.

The drought that occurred during the final years of Maya society led to an estimated reduction of rainfall by 40% in the years of drought (Haug et al., 2003). To add on the natural disaster of drought, the clearance of forest by Classic Maya community accelerated the issue at the time of drought season. Given that people of Classic Maya were known as extensive users of the wetland agriculture, these kinds of changes could have been much devastating since droughts caused significant food shortages(Douglas, Demarest, Brenner, & Canuto, 2016). Therefore, the droughts coincide with the disappearance of Maya society. Thus it has been concluded that drought was the primary factor that resulted in Maya demise by scientists.

Mayan population and demographics analysts explain that the Mayan community faced a large population which increased around 660 AD because of heavy rainfalls at this period and an extended period of peace between different policies.

The population centers of Maya became overloaded, and there existed more individuals than the Mayan community could support. Because of overpopulation that was experienced in the society, there lived a firm strain which was placed upon the system of agriculture to feed the large population. The prevalence of drought resulted to exacerbating of the already-weakened system of agriculture that Maya society largely depended on (Heckbert, Costanza, & Parrott, 2014).

The political system instability of Maya society meant that it was common to have internal strife and the rise of the likelihood of experiencing war. The period of political instability could be unstable even before the beginning of drought periods. Lack of unity meant that there were decentralization and fragmentation of power among the local leaders (Webster, 2000). The fragmentation increased several problems that arose at the end of these drought periods as archaeologists and historians believed that this kind of instability had significant contributions to the disappearance of the Maya society. Given that climate change is not the sole reason that led to the demising of Maya civilization, the political status of Maya remains speculative.


In conclusion, the society and political system of Classic Maya were flawed, and the community was incapable of reacting to changes such as considerable population growth or severe drought. The large population in Maya strained the agriculture demand which made the population vulnerable to climate change. Even before the drought, the Maya society's systems had already been weakened hence the problem of climate change acted as a significant catalyst that led to demising of Maya society since it had lost its capability of surviving.


Douglas, P. M., Demarest, A. A., Brenner, M., & Canuto, M. A. (2016). Impacts of climate change on the collapse of lowland Maya civilization. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 44, 613-645.

Haug, G. H., Gunther, D., Peterson, L. C., Sigman, D. M., Hughen, K. A., & Aeschlimann, B. (2003). Climate and the collapse of Maya civilization. Science, 299(5613), 1731-1735.

Heckbert, S., Costanza, R., & Parrott, L. (2014). Achieving sustainable societies: lessons from modeling the ancient Maya. Solutions Journal, 5, 55-64.

Kennett, D. J., Breitenbach, S. F., Aquino, V. V., Asmerom, Y., Awe, J., Baldini, J. U., ... & Macri, M. J. (2012). Development and disintegration of Maya political systems in response to climate change. Science, 338(6108), 788-791.

Lucero, L. J. (2007). Classic Maya temples, politics, and the voice of the people. Latin American Antiquity, 18(4), 407-427.

Webster, D. (2000). The not so peaceful civilization: A review of Maya war. Journal of World Prehistory, 14(1), 65-119.

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Did Climate Change Cause the Collapse of Classic Maya Society? Essay Example. (2022, Nov 20). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/did-climate-change-cause-the-collapse-of-classic-maya-society-essay-example

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