One of the great mysteries of archaeology was the sudden collapse of the Mayan Civilisation of Central America. The disappearance of one of the great civilisations of the ancient world puzzled scientists for years, as "'ey searched for clues among the ruined and seserted Mayan cities.
How could a sophisticated culture with its <->owledge of mathematics and astronomy «anish into thin air? At its height in about ? DO AD, there were probably about 13 million “ayans supporting elaborate cities with grand r^ramid temples. Their lands extended from
I Ciichen Itza on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, —*ough Tikal in Guatemala to Copan in Hon¬duras. And then, almost instantly, everything :-ilapsed.
Researchers have recently discovered that it was in fact climate change that caused the collapse of Mayan culture. It coincides directly with several periods of intense drought each lasting about a decade. The worst drought lasted between about 760 and 800 AD. Each one put more intense pressure on an already fragile civilisation.
The cities were densely populated But they relied on corn-growing farmers who didn't produce enough to sustain both themselves and the city dwellers. Even though the Maya built reservoirs to collect water, their crops still depended on seasonal rains. Their land had ently changed their behaviour in response to climate change. When deadly droughts threatened their survival, these hunter-gatherers became traders.
What can modem societies learn from the Maya's downfall? Supplies of clean water are one of the biggest problems facing countries all over the world. Australia has experienced record droughts since the start of the 21st century. The western USA uses so much water that the Colorado River is dry by the time it joins the sea. People will have to change their habits even more, in order to survive the climate changes that are predicted in the next decades.