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Drought caused collapse of Mayan capital

Remains of temples in Mayapán, Mexico

Bradley Russell

A water shortage was behind the civil conflicts that caused the fall of Mayapán, the largest Mayan capital in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, say a team of scientists led by archaeologist Douglas Kennett of the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA. In addition to analyzing climate data, they used radiocarbon dating in underground caves to determine historical water level variations in the region. The group also analyzed the DNA of 205 individuals who lived there between the years 1400 and 1450, a period of intense droughts. The study suggests the lack of water affected agricultural practices and trade routes, increasing tensions between rival groups. With food shortages and growing instability, local inhabitants dispersed to nearby communities (Nature Communications, July 19). Mayapán was gradually abandoned between 1441 and 1461. Some of the population survived in other areas until the Spanish conquest in 1519. The city’s collapse, according to the study, was also the result of over reliance on corn and a sociopolitical landscape dominated by elite families with divergent interests.