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Paleo Slide Set: Climate and the Classic Maya Civilization
Proposed causes of the Collapse
The collapse of the Classic Maya civilization represents one of the great archaeological mysteries of our time, and its cause has been debated by scholars for nearly a century. Many hypotheses have been put forth to explain the collapse of this ancient civilization, but few have been rigorously tested. The proposed causes fall into two broad categories: natural causes and sociopolitical causes. The natural causes include factors such as:
  • soil exhaustion due to slash-and-burn agriculture
  • water loss and erosion of topsoil evident by increased sedimentation in lakes
  • natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes
  • climatic change
  • disease
  • insect infestations
  • overpopulation

The sociopolitical causes include:
  • peasant revolts resulting in the overthrowing of the elite class
  • inter-site warfare between Maya city-states
  • invasions by peoples from outside the Maya civilization
  • failure of centralized political authority.

Photo Credits:
David A. Hodell
Department of Geology, University of Florida
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