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Study bolsters links between climate change, Maya decline

Extreme weather likely disrupted advanced Central American civilization

The Altun Ha Maya site, near Belize City. Bob Berwyn photo.

Researchers used a stalactite from a cave to help establish an accurate climate record. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Archaeologists and paleoclimatologists have teamed to offer more proof that climate extremes likely caused the collapse on the ancient Maya civilization of Central America.

The Maya demise has long fascinated researchers, who wonder how a civilization that seemed to be at its peak simply vanished within the span of a few decades. Numerous studies have pointed to climate as a factor — even in the Earth’s pre-industrial era, natural cycles of rainfall and drought apparently had an impact.

“Here you had an amazing state-level society that had created calendars, magnificent architecture, works of art, and was engaged in trade throughout Central America,” said UC Davis anthropology professor and co-author Bruce Winterhalder. “They were incredible craftspersons, proficient in agriculture, statesmanship and warfare — and within about 80 years, it fell completely apart.” Continue reading

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Maya may have intensified drought by clearing forests

The Tikal temple represents one of the pinnacles of Maya civilization. Photo courtesy Raymond Ostertag via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Clear-cutting may have reduced rainfall by as much as 15 percent

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The decline of Maya civilization has often been linked with drought by climate researchers and archaeologists. Now, a new study suggests the Maya may have hastened their own demise by clearing forests.

Based on climate modeling, Mayan land-clearing may have reduced rainfall by as much as 15 percent in the heavily logged Yucatan Peninsula, and by up to 5 percent in other parts of southern Mexico. Overall, the researchers said as much as 60 percent of the regional drying may have been caused by deforestation.

“We’re not saying deforestation explains the entire drought, but it does explain a substantial portion of the overall drying that is thought to have occurred,” said the study’s lead author Benjamin Cook, a climate modeler at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Continue reading

Shifting trade routes may have led to Maya decline

Study focuses on delivery of obsidian to solve a Mesoamerican mystery

The Maya city of Altun Ha, near Belize City, thrived late in the Maya era, as trade of valuable goods shifted away from inland rivers to coastal routes. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with climate change, University of Illinois archaeologists say shifting trade patterns may have been a big factor in the decline of inland Maya cities about 1,000 years ago.

Other studies have suggested that even small declines in rainfall may have caused the Maya to abandon key cities.

“Our research strongly suggests that changing patterns of trade were instrumental in prompting the ‘Maya collapse,'” said Gary Feinman, curator of anthropology at The Field Museum, which collaborated with the University of Illinois at Chicago on the study. Continue reading

Divers explore the sacred cenotes of Belize

To learn more about the Maya, archaeologists and divers are teaming up for a unique expedition to look for artifacts in 200-foot-deep freshwater pools in Belize

SUMMIT COUNTY — A team of volunteer divers and archaeologists are hoping to learn more about the ancient Maya with a series of dives into the cenotes of Belize. In the first dives in May, the divers found fossilized animal remains and pottery shards. Similar finds have been documented in the cenotes of Mexico, but this was the first time they’ve been reported from Belize. Continue reading

Aerial laser mapping shows extent of Maya cities

New aerial laser mapping is helping archaeologists better understand the scope of Maya development in what is now Belize. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

High-tech surveys helps show that Maya built ‘sustainable cities’
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By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Flying over thick Belize jungles with high-tech NASA gear, a pair of researchers from the University of Central Florida say they detected thousands of new structures, 11 new causeways, tens of thousands of agricultural terraces and many hidden caves in the vicinity of Carcol, a well-known Maya archaeological site.

Anthropology professors Arlen and Diane Chase have directed archaeological excavations at Caracol for more than 25 years. The hard work of machete-wielding research scientists and students has resulted in the mapping of about 9 square miles of ancient settlement. But the use of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) equipment helped the researchers document Maya developments spread across nearly seven times that much ground and confirmed that the city’s population was probably close to 115,000 in 650 A.D.

The LiDAR bounces laser beams to sensors on the ground, penetrating the thick tree canopy and producing images of the ancient settlement and environmental modifications made by the inhabitants of the Maya city of Caracol. Continue reading

Ancient Maya engineered tunnels to pressurize water

This is a depiction of Piedras Bolas aqueduct functioning as a fountain. This illustrates one plausible explanation of how the feature used water pressure. Due to destruction of the aqueduct, exact details of the its use are unknown. Note that during the monsoon, excess runoff flows over the freature while the buried conduit continues to function. Credit: Reid Fellenbaum

Pressurized aqueduct in Palenque, Mexico may have supplied a fountain or transported waste water away from city

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Maya people living in Palenque, Mexico in the 6th and 7th century probably engineered underground aqueducts to create the first known pressurized water system in the New World, according to a a pair of Penn State scientists who recently studied the ancient water works.

It’s not known exactly how the Maya used the pressurized water system, but the archaeologist and hydrologist who studied the site said the water may have supplied a fountain, or perhaps used to transport waste water away from the city.

The researchers described their research in a recent issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, explaining that water pressure systems were previously thought to have been introduced to the Americas with the arrival of Europeans. Continue reading

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