What Caused the Disappearance of the Mayan Civilization?

Topics: Maya civilization, Mayan languages, Agriculture Pages: 7 (2592 words) Published: April 8, 2012
It is still a great mystery how the Mayan civilization disappeared. This complex society reached its zenith around approximately 750 AD. However, within the next two hundred years, this civilization which was epic in its time collapsed and disappeared leaving minimal traces and even more scanty detail about what could have caused this disappearance. This knowledge gap has led to a lot of debate among scholars over the various possible reasons behind what seems to us to be the abandonment and desertion of these sites. Some of these explanations are suppositions made without convincing proof. It has been understood widely that the collapse of Late Classic Maya civilization involved more than the disintegration of political structure and that it could have involved a total systemic failure in which both centres and dependent villages were abandoned by elites and commoners alike. The lowland rainforest habitat where Maya civilization developed was not significantly reoccupied until comparatively recent time. Theories for this “Mayan Collapse” are wide-ranging and varied, and recent scholarship has postulated over seventy different theories including, but not limited to climate change, deforestation, drought, warfare and invasion, social upheaval or revolution. Some theories even go to the extent to postulate a lack of affirmative action by Mayan kings which could have saved the civilization. Archaeologists have made several attempts to come up with explanations for this collapse; however no specific theory has greater empirical sway than others. Why did such a mighty civilization collapse? Are there any Mayan descendants who can tell us anything? Where do we turn for informant given the dearth of evidence? This essay will critically examine the theories of demographic constraints, climatic changes including drought and warfare and invasion as they attempt to explain the disappearance of the Mayan civilization. Each theory’s overview and merits will be discussed and interrogated such that convincing models can be used to explain the collapse of this civilization. This essay will eventually conclude by establishing the aptness and viability of the chosen theories in order to offer conclusions which are as plausible as possible under the circumstances of insufficient tangible evidence and the paper will attempt further to explain why these could have been the main causes behind the collapse of the Mayan civilization. A large part of the Mayan economy was agriculture. They mainly grew maize, beans, and squash. Since Mayan cities were basically located in tropical forests, ‘slash and burn’ technique was utilized in order to create strips of land for farming. This proved as a sophisticated method and the Mayans were able to sustain a good agro based economy. However, the constant use of this technology resulted in the destruction of land, making it almost barren. Since the Mayan region was inclined to natural drought and human induced drying due to deforestation, this combination may well have wreaked havoc on Maya civilization. Climatic changes played a huge role in agricultural subsistence because complete deforestation had major impacts on temperature and precipitation. Thus, it is very likely that complete deforestation contributed to changes in climate which were unfavourable for the Mayans right at the peak of their civilization (Oglesby, Sever, Saturno, Erickson & Srikishen, 2010: 7). This is because climatic elements determined the nature of temperature and rainfall that was adequate for the plantation and harvesting of crops. If the climate was unfavourable, the staple diet would be upset and this could cause in starvation and disease. So the combination of deforestation and cultivation of fertile land tampered with the climate, and in turn the climatic changes caused an upset in the agricultural system as a whole, which drastically interrupted the usual function of society. This could mean starvation, an epidemic, both...
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