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Maya Civilization in Southern Mexico Collapses

The Maya civilization in Southern Mexico centered around the present-day states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, and Chiapas. The Preclassic and Classic Periods marked the Maya civilization’s golden age in Southern Mexico when cities such as Calakmul and Palenque rose to prominence. Towns and villages that surrounded these major urban areas increased to accommodate the rapidly growing population during the Maya golden age. While divine rulers commissioned the construction of great palaces, monuments, and temples. The collapse of the Maya civilization in Southern Mexico is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History during 850 AD.

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By 800 AD, the Maya civilization in Southern Mexico was on the brink of collapse which continued until the 12th century. The construction of massive palaces and stone monuments stopped during this period, while fewer hieroglyphic texts were inscribed in temples and palaces. Records of Kings the Maya considered divine disappeared while most of the people abandoned the major cities in the southern lowland region. The Postclassic Period marked the continued decline of the other Maya cities that somehow escaped the fate of their once-great neighbors.

Possible Reasons for the Collapse

Several events that occurred hundreds of years before the actual decline contributed to the eventual collapse of the Maya civilization in Southern Mexico. One of these long-term events was climate change, specifically the atmospheric shifts which caused a series of droughts in 760, 810, 860, and 910 AD. The southern lowland region was vulnerable to these droughts because:

* The areas on which they lived had fewer groundwater sources which made the Maya people more dependent on rainfall.
* The Maya used agricultural practices that needed more water to irrigate the fields.
* The conversion of land to farms which led to widespread deforestation and increase in temperature in the region (it made the weather warmer).
* The rapid growth of the Maya population.

“Southern Maya area sites”

Internal conflicts and rebellions also contributed to the collapse of the Maya civilization in Southern Mexico. Archaeologists found evidence of mutilation of the rulers’ stone monuments. The mutilators spared the representations of peasants which led to the theory that a rebellion led by the peasants exploded within their communities. The series of droughts and the elite’s exploitation of the peasants who were displaced from their land probably lit the fuse of this rebellion. In addition, the Maya kings instilled in their people a belief in their rulers’ divinity, and that they could alter the weather conditions whenever they wanted to bring rain on their parched lands. However, the droughts continued, and this failure became a sign that the gods had withdrawn their favor from their kings or that they were mere mortals after all.

The outbreak of yellow fever among the Maya people and their death from this disease could also be a factor for their decline between 800 and 1000 AD. The onset of this disease was linked to deforestation which drove out the animals from the forest who were the main carriers of the virus (monkeys and mosquitoes) and into the Maya communities. Other possible factors include foreign invasions and the changes in trade network which saw the rise of sea trade and the decline of inland trade routes. This favored the communities that lived near the coast, while the lowland Maya declined in importance after this shift in trade networks.

Demarest, Arthur Andrew. Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Sharer, Robert J., and Sylvanus Griswold Morley. The Ancient Maya. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.
Suck, Christine (2008) “The Classic Maya Collapse,” Totem: The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology: Vol. 16: Iss. 1, Article 4. Available at:
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