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Earth Science

Study Suggests Climate Change-Induced Drought Caused the Mayan Collapse 243

pigrabbitbear writes "The collapse of the Mayan empire has already caused plenty of consternation for scientists and average Joes alike, and we haven't even made it a quarter of the way through 2012 yet. But here's something to add a little more fuel to the fire: A new study suggests that climate change killed off the Mayans."
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Study Suggests Climate Change-Induced Drought Caused the Mayan Collapse

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  • by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @02:39PM (#39165895) Homepage Journal

    They hadn't yet mastered their world woth "cap and trade" or the Prius.

    That's why they were doomed, and we are assured.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BasilBrush ( 643681 )

      The gist of the article is that a succession of droughts over several years meant that they no longer had enough water to support their population numbers. Which caused resource wars between different city states, resulting in the self destruction of the civilisation.

      Now, for sure, droughts are not that in frequent an occurrence in the current era, and AGW will change the areas that are affected by droughts. But most of the developed wold won't care because they aren't in the worst areas, and it's mostly po

      • In the last 1200 years people have become more mobile. Back then in addition to suffering drought they were also surrounded by territorial cannibalistic slave-taking peoples with significant cultural differences and a lack of diversity appreciation training.
  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @02:40PM (#39165899)

    From the article:

    The Yucatan is apparently highly sensitive to water reductions, a hypothesis supported by current data, and that means that reduced tropical storm action was likely enough to trigger the downfall of the Mayans, thanks to a quickly-depleting water supply.

    With the massive increase in severe tropical storms, the Yucatan will have some of the wettest weather in history, The Mayans will reemerge, and will take over the Americas again!

    Not the South normally expected to rise...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "The Mayans will reemerge, and will take over the Americas again!"

      The new Mayan chief will be heard to ask, "What year is it?" Followed by, "Dang!"

  • Source? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2012 @02:44PM (#39165927)

    I hate when people cite academic papers and don't provide a link to it...


    • by PRMan ( 959735 )
      Because then it would be too easy for you to debunk the obviously PC-inspired paper...
  • by oldhack ( 1037484 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @02:44PM (#39165935)
    Driving hummers, flying all over the place spewing carbon out the wazoo. Fools.
  • Duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rs79 ( 71822 ) <hostmaster@open-rsc.org> on Sunday February 26, 2012 @02:50PM (#39165963) Homepage

    This happened in Mesopotamia too. It's called "biological succession" - forest gives way to grassland which gives way to scrub which becomes desert. It happened all over Africa and Mesopotamia is now called Iraq. Environmental biology 101.

    We haven't been screaming for people to take care of the soil, flora and fauna for nothing. But carry on.

    • Re:Duh. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Krojack ( 575051 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @03:18PM (#39166153)
      That's why we started crop rotation [wikipedia.org].The great Dust Bowl [wikipedia.org] woke us up to that in the early 1930's.
    • Re:Duh. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @03:18PM (#39166157) Homepage

      In different climates the biological succession works the other way. For instance, right now, in New England, if you leave bare rock undisturbed, it starts growing lichens. The lichens eventually trap enough material to make the wetter spots suitable for mosses which move in next. Then come the grasses, which turn the place into a field. Eventually, the field builds up enough soil that shrubs and pioneer tree species can show up. And finally, the larger canopy trees move in, and you have a forest again. This process actually happened over about 150 years, as the farming that used to happen in New England moved westward leaving land behind.

      • In Virginia it's even faster. When I was a kid they cleared a piece of land for development. Then they stopped the process for a few years. By the time they were actually ready to break ground for construction some of the sapplings were 10 feet high. Maples are particularly aggressive there. If you don't clean your gutters for two years, 3 foot maples will sprout and thrive on the moist leaf litter.

        • I just want to point out that what the parent was talking about was the changeover of most the flora of an ecosystem, not how fast it takes a tree to grow in fertile ground.

          I live in Virginia, and there are grassy plots over a hundred years old (historically grazing land) that haven't accepted shrubs or trees thanks to thin topsoil.
      • Here in the [US] Pacific Northwest too... You can have two inches moss/lichens in as little as two years.

    • by mc6809e ( 214243 )

      We haven't been screaming for people to take care of the soil, flora and fauna for nothing. But carry on.

      Taking care of the soil isn't going to prevent changes in the the tilt of the earth's axis [independent.co.uk].

    • We haven't been screaming for people to take care of the soil, flora and fauna for nothing. But carry on.

      We will!

  • We have the WHEEL! Those silly Mayans didn't have the wheel! If they had the wheel they could have just hopped on their cart and quickly roll away in the opposite direction of climate change, walking just isn't fast enough.
  • Jared Diamond (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2012 @02:56PM (#39166003)

    New? Wasn't this described in "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond years ago?

  • They could move to Las Vegas! They have plenty of ... Wait http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4719473.stm [bbc.co.uk] No, they shouldn't go to Las Vegas.

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @03:20PM (#39166165)

    The Mayans are still there, living in the land their ancestors lived in. They were not "killed off". Any study that suggests they were "killed off" can be ignored as propaganda.

    The Mayans made a transition from living in large, centralized cities to a more dispersed, less organized society. This is likely because their centralization was expensive and only supportable based on specific agricultural conditions and faith in their leaders to be able to sustain them. When those conditions changed, that faith could no longer be justified and the expense could no longer be afforded.

    When your society is built on the idea of all-powerful mystic kings, then your society falls when the population loses faith in those kings' power.

    • Propaganda [wikipedia.org] from Wikipedia: "Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position."

      Ok, I'll bite. Why would there be motivation to spread propaganda about the Mayans being killed off?
      • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @03:55PM (#39166393)

        Why would there be motivation to spread propaganda about the Mayans being killed off?

        See references to AGW, poor black people, and peak oil up above. Everybody has an agenda

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by khallow ( 566160 )

        Ok, I'll bite. Why would there be motivation to spread propaganda about the Mayans being killed off?

        Three incentives off the bat: protecting an ideological sunk cost, status signalling, and money/power.

        • by nbauman ( 624611 )

          Those devious scientists!

          And all along I thought they were warning us because they thought global warming would mess up the environment.

    • by TWX ( 665546 )

      Same can be said for the Romans, the Byzantines, Mongols, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, and every other major collapsed empire that had thousands upon thousands in cities that were lost to time or to diaspora.

      If my descendants live in a country that is no longer the United States of America, even if they live in the same geographical area as I live now or anywhere else within the extant borders, they're no longer Americans. Their nation and culture define that encompassing label, and if tha

    • The Mayans are still there, living in the land their ancestors lived in. They were not "killed off". Any study that suggests they were "killed off" can be ignored as propaganda.

      The Mayans made a transition from living in large, centralized cities to a more dispersed, less organized society.

      And surely these changes were ordered, pacific and without bloodshed. Their culture survived, as did their way of life and society. In fact we do not need archeologists for learn anything about the Mayans, because we just can ask the contemporary Mayan scholars who know everything about their culture.

      And there was neither famine nor infighting for the resources that suddenly had become scarce. And even better, from being an unsuccessful society with some degree of science and organization they became a bunc

      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        [Lots of oddly contentious strawman arguments deleted] ...

        And now, since you are the one who brought the subject of AGW...

        Nope. I didn't.

        You might be better at discussions if you'd focus on what a guy said rather than complaining about stuff he didn't say. You'd probably be worse at communicating propaganda though, so I guess it depends on what you're trying to do.

        • When asked, you just let tomhath [slashdot.org] answer for you (you have not given an alternative explanaition, so until then I will rightfully take it as that you agree with him). Anyway you are right that you don't explicity explained why this is "propaganda".

          Anyway, you still have a few more rebuttals to answer (sorry, but just calling them names does not invalidate them).

          I would like to know if you think that what happened to the Mayans is what you would like to happen (or would not care if it happened) to you.... as

  • Took out Angkor Wat.

  • by Salgak1 ( 20136 ) <salgak&speakeasy,net> on Sunday February 26, 2012 @03:23PM (#39166185) Homepage
    Nobody bothered to notice that the time of fall of the Maya segues into the Medieval Optimum ??? If you look at this graph [wikipedia.org], you'll see that the temps start their rise around 800AD, and the Optimum is well established by 950AD.

    In other words, a planetary climate change contributed to the fall of the Maya. Which just goes to prove a point: climate is NOT a fixed value, but a variable with a substantial-enough range to cause major ecological changes in relatively short periods of time. . . .

    • Correlation, especially single variable correlation when the data is on an entirely different continent, doesn't imply causation.

      Further the word 'optimal' in the phrase "Medieval Optimum" usually refers to temperatures in Europe. Whatever caused warmer temperatures in Europe might well create droughts in the Yucatan peninsula. Then again, it might not.

    • Who said it was fixed?

    • If it is everywhere; wouldn't it be connected to everything?

  • Hasn't this been public knowledge for decades?

    • by zootie ( 190797 )

      Second parragraph (in essence, putting numbers to the "amount" of climate change):

      That’s been posited for some time, but this report adds the twist that the change in question amounted to about a 40 percent drop in rainfall. Researchers argue that, if that’s indeed what set up the final blow, the Mayans succumbed to climate change that was much less severe than previously expected

  • Human-influenced global warming is fake and Ron Paul is immediately president. Take THAT, Fartbongolibs.

  • If we can find a way to send Al back in time, he can save the Mayans from climate change. PLEASE find a way.

    • If we can find a way to send Al back in time, he can save the Mayans from climate change. PLEASE find a way.

      If that works with Al, then we can send the rest of the politicians back in time. Way back in time. Like before oxygen atmosphere time.

      • by irtza ( 893217 )

        so they can take credit for the oxygen atmosphere?

        • Well, I was hoping they would just curl up and die, but since Politicians (like Zombies) seem indestructible, they probably would take credit for the oxygen in the atmosphere.

          And then try to tax it.

    • by Spykk ( 823586 )
      No, Sam is the one we send back in time. Al just appears to him as a hologram with information from the future.
  • by Fieryphoenix ( 1161565 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @04:17PM (#39166523)
    It just wrecked their civilization.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2012 @04:18PM (#39166525)

    That way we can exploit other worlds. There are just too many people living here today. With 6 Billion plus people, how is it that we could not affect the global climate. Now whether that is a good thing or a bad is another story. I personally think the Earth could be a few degrees warmer. These liberals all want another ice age. Either way, it will work out in the end. If the climate changes, and we can no longer support everybody, that will mean there will just be less climate change, and the status quo will return. I just can't fathom why liberals want to do away with every modern convenience so that we can go back to the way things were 1000 years ago. I say fuck mother Earth. She hasn't done anything for us except give us earth quacks and typhoons. It is about time we started taking the fight to her. We need to probe deep into her bowls, so that we can extract all her juicy oil. Make her our bitch instead of the other way around. Plain and simple mother Earth will not respect humanity, unless we can shove her around a bit. Then she will show us her gapping chasms just waiting to be plumbed. Or we can just continue to be liberal whiners, and she will leave you for some other species, that isn't afraid to get down and dirty.


  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @05:53PM (#39167169)
    agriculture totally depends on petroleum, to make fertilizers, herbicides & insecticides, from beginning to end the entire process of modern industrialized farming depends on oil, if something happens to either the supply of oil or just a few bad growing seasons for one reason or another it could cause a big chunk of civilization to starve, and if that happens it wont be pretty, (i sure dont want to be around to witnesses it)
  • Some new study. It was "new" when it was first published in Science in 2001? http://www.sciencemag.org/content/292/5520/1367.short [sciencemag.org]

    This is one of many papers showing that 1. The Mayan empire was subject to a series of droughts that finally offed them, and 2. That variations of solar activities caused these droughts.

    It doesn't "suggest" anything, it forcibly affirms it with tons of data to accompany it.

  • From TFA:

    As our study suggests, the TCP rainfall reductions where not of catastrophic proportions,

    Their proof-reading is the only catastrophic thing here. There's no "h" anywhere near "w" or "e" so it can't be a typo (unless they have a dvorak keyboard?)
    This error didn't exist in the 1980 and 1990s, it seems to have started up more recently than that.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @07:08PM (#39167689)

    Droughts occur frequently in this region, the Mayans had reservoirs but it wasn't enough. Most likely is that the population had grown during a wet period, then couldn't be sustained in a drought cycle. [google.com]

    The 760 AD drought signaled the end of a 200 year ‘wet’ period in the Yucatan, during this time the cities prospered, but populations grew to such great numbers that agricultural production became over stretched.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    1: Maya people, Maya culture, the Maya. Mayan is the language, written or spoken. ONLY the language, written or spoken. Mayan = Language

    2: "The Maya collapsed" makes poor shorthand for: "The Late Classic Maya period evidenced major demographic shifts from large cities to smaller communities and southern city centers to nothern city centers, with strong continuity of material culture, daily practice, structures of governance, language, and genetic population, although some southern city centers experien

It is now pitch dark. If you proceed, you will likely fall into a pit.