A new analysis of the causes of the collapse of the Maya civilization in the 9th century has found that both human made and natural factors were responsible. The study focused on the interactions between humans and the environment .
In their revised model of the collapse of the ancient Maya, social scientists B.L. “Billie” Turner and Jeremy “Jerry” A. Sabloff provide a human-environment systems theory in which they explain the degree of environmental and economic stress in the Central Maya Lowlands.
The ancient Maya experienced decadal to century-level or longer droughts amplified by the landscape changes that they made, including large-scale deforestation indicated in the paleoecological record.
“This environmental stress was complemented by a shift in commercial trade from across the peninsula to around it, which reduced the economy of the ruling elite to keep up the livelihood infrastructure to prevent the tipping point,” said Turner, a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.
“The decision was made to vacate the central lowlands rather than maintain the investment. This theory is not only consistent with the data on collapse but on the failure of the central lowlands to be reoccupied subsequently,” said Turner.
The research “acknowledges the role of climate change and anthropogenic environmental change, while also recognizing the role of commerce and choice,” he said.
The researchers noted that the Maya case lends insights for contemporary global environment change and sustainability.