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Paleo Slide Set: Climate and the Classic Maya Civilization
Comparison of data ostracods and Maya cultural periods, from Curtis et al. 1997
The oxygen isotope data measured on ostracods from Punta Laguna sediments have been converted from radiocarbon years to calendar years and compared to Mayan cultural periods. Superimposed upon the mean changes in the record are distinct peaks that represent arid climate conditions. These peaks occur at 585 A.D., 862 A.D., 986 A.D., 1051 A.D. and 1391 A.D. Error is approximately +/-50 years. The first peak at 585 A.D. coincides with the early/late Classic boundary.

This boundary is associated with the "Maya Hiatus", which lasted between 530 and 630 A.D. The Maya Hiatus was marked by a sharp decline in monument carving, abandonment in some areas and social upheaval. This event may have been drought-related. During the next 200 years from 600 to 800 A.D., the late Classic Maya flourished and reached their cultural and artistic apex. The next peak in 18O/16O occurs at 862 A.D. and coincides with the collapse of Classic Maya civilization between 800 and 900 A.D. The earliest Postclassic Period was also relatively dry between 986 and 1051 A.D. At about 1000 A.D., mean oxygen isotope values decrease indicating a return to more humid conditions. Although a Postclassic resurgence occurred in the northern Yucatan, city-states in the southern lowlands remained sparsely occupied. These findings support a rather strong correlation between times of drought and major cultural discontinuities in Classic Maya civilization.

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

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Last Modified: 12 October 2001

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