Sunday, June 01, 2003

Drought Brought An End To The Mayan Civilization

I saw an interesting program Friday night on the collapse of the Mayan civilization, "Ancient Apocalypse: The Fall of the Mayan Civilisation". Although I saw it on the Discovery Times Channel, it was apparently produced by the BBC. Remembering the devastating droughts of his childhood, Texas archaeologist, Dick Gill, theorized that drought caused the Mayan collapse. But he had quite a time getting other scholars to give his theory serious consideration. He combed historical records looking for references to drought and found such references not only in Spanish records of 1795 but even in a Mayan text that had escaped the Spanish conflagration. He also studied weather patterns and discovered that at the time of the Mayan collapse, there was evidence of unusually cold weather in the Arctic and northern Europe. Further investigation revealed that a high pressure system that normally remains in the central north Atlantic occasionally moved southwest. Each time this occurred, the Arctic would experience record cold and Central America would experience drought. The clincher came when a team of archaeologists from the University of Florida that were studying core samples from the bed of Lake Chichancanab in the Yucatan peninsula found evidence that in the ninth century the area experienced the driest period in 7,000 years.

I am always fascinated by such discoveries that produce an answer to mysteries that were discussed in my history classes as a child. I felt a similar thrill when evidence was discovered that the dinosaurs extinction was the result of a meteor impact.