The Maya civilization was one of the most advanced of its time, sporting cities and populations that rose to the millions. Yet during the 8th or 9th centuries, a sudden collapse spelled the end of this vast civilization. Now, scientists are taking a closer look at what might have led to this catastrophic collapse.
Researchers actually took minerals from Belize’s famous underwater cave, known as the Blue Hole, along with lagoons nearby. These minerals showed that an extreme drought occurred between AD 800 and AD 900, which is right when the Mayan civilization collapsed, according to LiveScience.
Because cleared land absorbs less sunlight, less water evaporates from its surface. This means that clouds and rainfall become more scarce over time. This means that rapid deforestation that was caused by the Maya exacerbated an already severe drought, according to the Smithsonian. In fact, researchers estimated that deforestation reduced precipitation by 5% to 15 %, and was responsible for 60 percent of the total drying that occurred over the course of a century as the Mayan civilization collapsed.
That’s not all the researchers found. By examining the chemical composition of cores that they drilled from the sediments in the Blue Hole, the researchers found that there was just one or two tropical cyclones every two decades as opposed to the usual five or six between AD 800 and AD 1000, according to LiveScience.
The findings reveal that the Maya’s land clearing in addition to an extended drought eventually caused the downfall of the civilization.