Climate And Its Role In The Decline Of The Maya Civilization

1737 words - 7 pages

. Due to the unpredictability of the climate the Maya had to deal with crop loss and periods of famine, brought on by drought. Southern Maya regions, compared to northern Maya regions, received much more rainfall, and in turn suffered greater because of the dramatic climate shifts in rainfall. A journal article in American Scientist by Peterson, states that
in recent years, evidence has mounted that unusual shifts in atmospheric patterns took place near the end of the Classic Maya period, lending credence to the notion that climate, and specifically drought, indeed played a hand in the decline of this ancient civilization.
(2005, p.322)
The Maya relied largely on the replenishment of water in their reservoirs for their water supply. Seasonal rain was vital for the Maya to maintain a sustainable water reserve. Water was their most valuable element and most crucial resource. In Global Warming Focus, “the rise and the fall of the Mayan civilization is an example of a sophisticated civilization failing to adapt successfully to climate change” (“The Collapse,” 2012, p.220),
Now that the environment of the Maya has been discussed and understood, the agriculture of the Maya is another important factor in the collapse of the Classic Maya. Domesticated crops that were currently being farmed at the time were corn, chiles, squash, beans, etc. Corn was a huge part of the Maya diet for the nobles and commoners, and responded positively to human intervention (Diamond, 2011, p.163). However, agriculture limitations arose with corn, such as a short storing period, one year, little nutrients, and the farming of corn was unproductive and require large amounts of labor (Diamond, 2011, p.165). An agricultural technique that was at first primarily used by the Maya was slash-and-burn. This form of agriculture was created in the Preclassic period and occurred primarily in the humid lowlands. Slash-and-burn is a technique where the land is burned to the ground, then cultivated for two to three years till the land has been drained of its fertile soil, and is then deserted for ten to twenty years so that the soil can be replenished of its nutrients, and thus can be cultivated once again. This type of agriculture is inconvenient for a large society due to the long period of time for soil to restore itself, and for the continuous relocation of farmland.
In turn, the Maya had the ability to develop agriculture techniques beyond slash-and-burn, such as raised fields in Tikal, which were built in swampy areas. This form of agriculture demands a great deal of work to build, but results in a larger food production. In his bestselling book, Collapse, Jared Diamond discusses the process of raised fields by stating that they “involve digging canals to drain a waterlogged area, fertilizing and raising the level of the fields between the canals by dumping muck and water hyacinths dredged out of the canals onto the fields…” (2008, p.163). Also, by using this...

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