The Mayan civilization is known to be one of the most sophisticated civilizations in America prior to the Spanish colonization of the region. Its sudden collapse sometime between the 8th and 9th century is also one of the mysteries that baffled experts and which has given rise to a number of theories including overhunting, deforestation and even alien invasion.
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A new study that examined minerals from the famous underwater cave in Belize, known as the Blue Hole, discovered evidence for an extreme drought between 800 and 900 AD, which corresponds to the time period in which the ancient Maya civilization collapsed. The researchers suggest that the drought contributed to the demise of the Maya.
Cities, like the magnificent Tikal, were ruled by a dominant elite who could command mighty armies. Yet over the course of only a century, beginning around the 8th century AD, the cities became abandoned and were left in ruins.
The Maya people never entirely disappeared – many moved North, and areas such as Northern Yucatán in Mexico and the Highland states of the K’iche’ and Kaqchikel, prospered afterwards. Nevertheless, the Maya civilization never truly recovered and only a fraction of the Maya people survived to face the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
But recently, analysis of sediment cores provides researchers with timeline of past events that could shed light on historical climate, among others. Droxler scientist at Rice University, and colleagues, in particular, focused on analyzing the ratio of titanium to aluminum in the samples because low ratios indicate periods where there were fewer rainfalls.
The researchers found that an extreme drought occurred during the period associated with the disintegration of the Mesoamerican civilization. Droxler acknowledged that their study is not the first to associate drought with the fall of the Mayan culture but the researcher said that it strengthens the theory given that their data were from several spots in the region that were central to the Mayan civilization.
“When you have major droughts, you start to get famines and unrest,” Droxler added. Researchers say that this new finding backs an earlier theory, which believes that famines and droughts caused massive warfare and anarchy among the civilization, which finished it off.
The Blue Hole, according to National Geographic, is more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) across and some 400 feet (120 meters) deep. The hole is the opening to what was a dry cave system during the Ice Age. When the ice melted and the sea level rose, the caves were flooded, creating what is now a natural wonder.
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