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The Mayan peoples. This group of individuals were found in Mesoamerica and inhabited many indigenous lands between what we know today as Mexico and Honduras.
An extremely advanced civilization for its time, they created the only fully developed writing system within the pre-discovered American lands, built some of the first-ever cities, and relied on astronomy and mathematics to improve and advance their agricultural systems.
Without them, we may not have obtained the knowledge known today for different technologies and attributes, including crafting strong tools and the usage of roads.
But, for as advanced as this population of humans were, they also disappeared just as fast as they appeared. What started out as an archaic community of foragers in before 2000 BCE turned into an epidemic of disease and depopulation by the 16th century.
What caused this sporadic change for their people, and was it something that could’ve been prevented in the first place?
Read on to see the truth behind their epic rise and fall.
Before the Mayan Civilization Declined
It’s hard to think that such a strong population and ecosystem would have ultimately disappeared. The Mayan people maintained their culture within one of the harshest environments out there. Almost every day could be filled with different problems, whether it be dangerous animals like snakes or jaguars that posed a fatal threat, or the differing and often unbearable climates.
That all said, the truth is that between the years 300 and 900 C.E. (formerly known as A.D.) the civilization prospered through the Central American region, thanks in large part to their unique economy and access to resources.
They had a foundation meant for survival though.
These people ate many different varieties of crops and they utilized various trading partners to thrive under harsh conditions. The Mayans knew that trade was an important part of any civilization, and as such developed trade routes between different areas of their cities.
Their communities understood how different areas of people and crops needed each other to survive.
Even still, these people weren’t ruled under one system of government.
Instead of a unified political system that you might think they would’ve used, the people were governed by numerous entities that simply had the same cultural background. This means that, potentially, one reason for their disappearance could’ve been due to territorial and combat disputes between differing Mayan subgroups.
As far as we’re concerned, constant warfare between your own people is never helpful in advancing through the years.
How the Mayans Used Their Resources
Another interesting theory about the Mayan people comes from their creation of arts and crafts out of materials that were perishable and non-perishable alike.
Essentially, their artforms and creations were made from anything they could find, including wood, ceramics, stone, stucco, jade, and ending with full-blown painted murals. The Mayan’s belief system, based on the interesting practices like human sacrifice and death rituals, aided in their ability to create the artwork.
Of course, they also used their materials to craft and build. This fact, combined with the deforestation and overpopulation theories (see below), could shed some light onto the demise of their civilization.
So, What Really Happened to the Mayan Civilization?
One of the biggest mysteries in all of history is the decline of this advanced group, and it’s one that few would’ve seen coming. During their lifetime, the Mayans were handily developing what they needed, while creating and researching the tools and tricks to survive the elements they were living in.
So, how could they simply vanish out of existence?
Perhaps the biggest reason boils down to climate and meteorological changes that started in the year 900 C.E., a period that offers many clues.
There is strong evidence to suggest that the changing of the weather patterns for the time and lack of consistency destroyed the cities and homes of many areas. This would make sense, as an indigenous people they would’ve been relying on the crops, seasons, and animals to survive.
One main source of water and other minerals was Lake Chichancanab in Mexico. This “Little sea,” as it’s known, was in the Yucatan Peninsula, which is where a large portion of the land that the Mayan peoples’ inhabited existed.
To determine this discovery, the scientists involved had to analyze the sediment cores that were buried underground in the lake’s remains. This data contains various pieces of evidence that, once broken down with chemical processes and tests, outputs a degree of climate conditions for the time frame.
A 50 percent decrease in yearly precipitation and it began in the period of 800-1000 C.E.
What this means is that they couldn’t count on the same amount of rainfall and water production as before. For the Mayans, rainfall was a huge portion of their livelihood, and to see it diminish that strongly wouldn’t have helped them prosper.
Plus, their access to different materials, for building monuments, tools, or houses, also would’ve been halted. This stifling of resources may have been one of the bigger problems the Mayan’s faced, ultimately causing them to hit a giant snag in development and life expectancy during the middle years of their existence.
The Reign of the Spanish Empire
Another big part of the Mayan people becoming an extinct group has to do with the Spanish people. The Spanish Empire started to colonize the Mesoamerican region, which is where the Mayans were located. This didn’t help the Mayan cause, as many of the cities within the region ultimately fell due to the major cultural differences.
This long battle started in the early 16th century and lasted until 1697.
The basis of the colonization stemmed from the Spanish viewing the Mayan people as infidels to the state, who needed to be converted to their own system of culture.
For the Mayans, the biggest failure came from their lack of new-world technology, as they had yet to adopt — or ever adopt, at that — wheels, horses, iron, steel, or gunpowder as the among the most prevalent resources. To combat the Spanish weaponry, which was composed of lances, pikes, halberds, crossbows, and artillery, the Maya warriors use flint-tipped items, wooden swords, throwing stones, wooden bows, and arrows.
You may be able to guess which community came out ahead in most of the battles.
This isn’t to say the Mayan didn’t have advantages, as they knew their land better than the Spanish did and relied heavily on traps, ambush, guerilla-based tactics.
Ultimately though, the Spanish succeeded in rounding up and exploiting most of the remaining Mayan people in the landmass known as Mesoamerica. It’s hard to keep fighting and improving your economy and cities living in lands that weren’t catering to those needs, which most of the Maya people were in.
Overpopulation Didn’t Help Either
As with any area that is home to a large concentration of people, overcrowding was a serious issue that the Mayan civilization faced.
Extra people, combined with the drought highlighted above would’ve meant that the cities and societies were strained for resources to keep up with the booming population. Overall, the people simply weren’t prepared to manage an ever-growing community all while dealing with constant inter-connected warfare and climate issues.
The Mayans’ Issues Weren’t All Self-Inflicted
It’s unfortunate to say, but one of the strongest arguments for the disappearance of this ancient civilization really comes from the nature of the weather. In an unlucky turn of events, the civilization was pressured into succeeding during one of the longest droughts of their time.
For people, regardless of being indigenous or not, living without water and vital elements would make it extremely tough, and that’s exactly what happened to the Mayan people.
Also, due to the deforestation of surrounding areas close to cities and important agricultural areas, the Maya may have had issues keeping up with food production. The deforestation of any area can adversely affect the soil, making it harder to grow and produce crops.
To top it off, the Spanish came in before the Mayan civilization could recover, ultimately converting or killing off any remaining people and cities found.
Ultimately, the power of another empire and the drastically different climate conditions paved the way for a great civilization to fall. This was a slow process of decline over the period of a few hundred years.
Who knows where we might be today if they were still around.