Discuss What Different Theories Suggest About the Disappearance of the Mayans
Discuss what different theories suggest about the disappearance of the Mayans. The Mayan civilization began during 2000 B. C. and by 200 A. D. they had reached their peak of development, with more people per square kilometer than modern day New York. They were located throughout northern Central America, and present day southern Mexico. They continued to develop with forms of mathematics and astrometry, with observatories being built to follow the stars and planets. But during the 8th and 9th century the Mayans abandoned their cities and slowly disappeared.
The southern cities seemed to perish most with the northern cities surviving until the Spanish conquest. Lying buried beneath jungle the temples and ruined palaces of the ancient Mayan civilisation lay, some buildings reaching above the dense canopy of the jungle, we see the scatted rubble that was once family homes and elegant palaces of nobles. There are many theories to how the Mayans disappeared and because the lack of Mayan records we must rely on Spanish accounts, with the writings of bishop Diego de Landa being very important in the study of the ancient Mayan people, and basic archaeological and scientific evidence.
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There are several theories to explain the Mayan collapse and the main being that of a huge drought. This drought was placed in the time period of 800 AD and 1000 AD, around the same time as the disappearance of the Mayans. The lack of water may have caused agricultural problems and no drinking water. Some scientific methods used to determine whether a flood occurred were undertaken by Richard Gill, who used dendrochronology, historical climate data and scientific climate modelling.
Another method Gill uses was sampling mud from the bottom of a lake, at the Yucatan peninsula, and to analyse the oxygen content of the mud, a heavy content means the lake was evaporating at the time, and a light oxygen content means, that the lake was full, from the sample, of the ninth century, it showed a surge of heavy oxygen, indicating there was a drought at the time. However during this drought only the southern Mayan cities were abandoned and the northern cities survived due to their location to the ocean and fresh seafood.
Another theory, linking with the drought was over-farming of the land. This may have caused the drought and the slow abandonment to the land. When the Mayans farmed the land, they removed jungle and exposed the land to the natural elements. Dirt washed away and the once absorbent land dried up with the little rainfall. The Mayans used a specific way of clearing the land for their fields; cut all the jungle and burns all the trees, which left the land fertile for the first two years and then the land became increasingly dry and harder to grow crops on.
The also had to cut down trees and build huge fires for building material. “They had to burn 20 trees to heat the limestone for making just 1 square meter of the lime plaster they used to build their tremendous temples, reservoirs, and monuments,” explains Tom Sever, a veteran archaeologist. They used bigger fields because the population of the cities was over whelming and there wasn’t enough food to go around to all the people. But when the drought occurred the limited amount of crops that could grow became less able to.
The fact that the crops couldn’t grow under such dry conditions, famine threatened to wipe out the Mayan culture. Without the food and without the water life became extremely difficult for the Mayans, As Richardson B. Gill stated in his book, The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life, and Death, “Sunny days, in and of themselves, don’t kill people. But when people run out of food and water, they die. ” Because there is evidence that only the south cities seemed to perish during this drought, because the northern cities were close to the sea and therefore had access to fresh sea food.
Also as there is a lack of thousands bodies in the southern cities, this suggests people moved north and joined the northern cities. And because the lack of repopulation in the south cities means that the higher authority couldn’t control their people anymore. A theory that links with both drought and famine is environmental change. As the inland cities experienced the drought, they relied on the few crops that could grow in the dry condition, hunting the few animals that survived and the sea food from the coastal villages.
But some researchers found that coastal waters rose during the 9th century, and this could have flooded the villages that were situated on the coast causing the people that lived there to move inland to the bigger cities and villages putting strain on the food sources there and as a result the cities had no fresh seafood coming from the coast and then heavily relied on the few crops and animals to support their growing population. Although some theories have great backing evidence others don’t. This theory was ruled out due to lack of evidence.
The theory was Natural disaster, a volcanic eruption, hurricane or earthquake. This theory can explain why some cities and temples had seemed to be destroyed but not why only some villages and cities were affected. This theory, unlike many others was disproven. There could have been a collapse in the Mayan political system where there high priests were taken less seriously due the lack of food, and the assumption that the human sacrifice and torture was having no advantage against the gods ‘anger’.
Another theory is one of the peasants revolt, as in Eric Thompson book, The Rise and Fall of Mayan civilization. Thompson believes that one of the main reasons could have been a peasant’s revolt, and this could have branched out in many ways, one of his suggestions is that the peasants killed all the nobles and priests and then joined other Mayan cities further north.
Another of Thompson’s theories is that a large number of peasants left the southern Mayan cities due to lack of food and headed north, leaving the nobles and priests with small numbers of workers, which accounts for the lack of building and process during the 8th and 9th century, And because the priests and nobles didn’t know how to farm or build they, most likely, left for the northern cities also. This theory explains the slow collapse in the Mayan world, while others do not. One of these theories is the concept of warfare between the Mayans, most likely with other Mayan cities.
People usually think that the Mayans were a peaceful culture and never came into any serious battle, but evidence from painting in Mayan temples shows the Mayans having to defend themselves against their enemy. There is also evidence of structures to defend against enemies and obsidian arrow head. Also at the city called Cancuen, there were several bodies found in a well. The evidence on the bodies suggests they were killed and thrown into the well, perhaps to poison the water supply.
These invaders had no interest in the riches and treasure at Cancuen, because about 3600 pieces of jade and other household items were still within the city. There are also hieroglyphs showing that Tikal and Calakmul terrible enemies for centaury’s, and as this rivalry grew The cities recruited allies with other cities to help out with the war, and this caused a huge war that not only affected Tikal and Calakmul but many Mayan cities. Although this theory doesn’t explain the entire collapse of the Mayans, it can be combined with trade routes between cities, and even the abandonment of the land due to it being destroyed by the war.
The positioning of all the Mayan cities was deliberate, each city was positioned in such a way that all the main city centres had another city nearby to trade with, for example, Because of increasing warfare between the cities of the Mayans, difficulties between family’s across the cities and a growing military broke down and stopped the trade routes and food from other places stoped being received, and because each city relied on the other cities supplies and support the tight network that held the Mayan culture together collapsed. Due to a rising population in the Mayan cities another theory is overpopulation.
There were at times 300 – 400 people per square kilometre, with one of the highest populations of their time. Polygamy and intermarriage was common among royal families, and the common population, with workers being needed to farm and mine the land. Each generation was encouraged to produce many children, and with more children, more food needed to be grown and more area needs to be cleared, which leads to a cause and effect situation, with the Mayans having a famine and cause major deforestation and the drought. And because the Mayans failed to produce a technology to save them from the drought, they perished with it.
Because the theories for the Mayan disappearance some people come up with strange and unlikely theories, like Historian, Eugene Fredrick, who suggests that the Mayans were wiped out by a zombie plague. Fredrick believes that because other theories like famine or epidemic fail to produce buried human remains and that a zombie plague could be the answer. Fredrick also believes that the evidence shows that towards the end of the 9th century, the Mayan people were becoming cannibals and even goes on to suggest that children ate their own parents and Mayan villages devouring themselves.
In conclusion, each theory cannot be proven nor denied, no matter how much or how little evidence there is. Almost every theory can link with another suggesting that not one thing cause the collapse of the Mayans but several key events that slowly killed the Mayan civilisation. Deforesting for example, could have caused the drought, which could have caused famine and then a peasant’s revolt. There have been over 40000 theories to how and why the Mayans disappeared, some more likely than others.
Most of the northern Mayan cities survived until the Spanish conquests starting in 1526. The Mayans, also, never fully disappeared and today there are still people in Mexico who claim to be Mayan and they speak the language. Because there is no way for us to find out what really happened to the Mayans we must rely on the theories and evidence to give is some way to know what happened to one of the greatest civilisation of its time and why it their great limestone temples and pyramids were overrun by the jungle the once dominated.