Carving Of Mayan Ballgame
Mayan Carving Of Ballgame | Image by

Did Drought Wipe Out A Civilization?

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Back in September of 2016 I wrote about a very dangerous sport that existed since 1,400 B.C. called Pitz in classical Maya.  Here is a portion of that article. ” The game was described as a religious experience with ritual importance. It was attended by religious leaders, government leaders and chieftains. The winners of the game were given a feast and treated like heroes. Losing was another thing altogether. The leader of the losing team was sometimes killed. The Maya believed that human sacrifice was necessary for the continued success of their crops, trade and overall health. My professor at Memphis State University (Now the University of Memphis) explained that the whole losing team could be sacrificed after important games between rival warring tribes.”

Carving Of Mayan Ballgame
Mayan Carving Of Ballgame | Image through

The center of the Mayan culture was what we now call the Yucatan Peninsula. The Mayan culture flourished for many years, 2,600 B.C. until 1,200 A.D., but seemed to suddenly collapse. The decline apparently occurred over a period of 200 years from 600 A.D. to 800 A.D. There have been may theories about what caused there demise and some of them are continued warfare between tribes, the decline of their political system, and the possible failure of their crops by some sort of disease or pest infestation. recently research has been centered on the climate of the Yucatan Peninsula and how it could have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” so to speak.

Mayan Decline
Mayan Decline | Image by

According to an article titled “Drought and the Ancient Maya Civilization” the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), formerly The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), “The cause of the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization is one of the great archeological mysteries of our time, and scholars have debated it for nearly a century. Some scientists suggest that a period of intense drought occurred in conjunction with the Classic Maya collapse and could have contributed to the Mayan’s misfortune.”

Lake Chichancanab
Lake Chichancanab | Photo by |

“Mud at the bottom of a Mexican lake holds secrets about the Maya empire’s demise.” is the title of an August 13th 2018 article in Popular Science. com ( written by Lexi Krupp. The article points out one particular lake called Lake  Chichancanab which means Little Lake in the Yucatec Maya language. What is so important here is not the lake itself, but what the scientists found below its clay bottom. “The only way for water to enter is by rainfall, the only way for it to escape is through evaporation. Its waters are salty, brimming with dissolved minerals. When rain eludes the area for long enough, a white crystal, called gypsum, collects in the mud at the lake’s bottom. Over the last five thousand years, the residue has only appeared in the lake bed during one chunk of time: just as the Maya Empire entered its decline.”

Gypsum Crystals | Photo by

Scientists have known about the drought for a long time, but the new wrinkle is the gypsum. The mineral traps whatever water is available inside. The article continues “Now, using gypsum as a guide the same group showed that rainfall dropped by nearly half during the collapse of the Maya, and upwards of 70% in the driest years.”

Mayan Decline
Mayan Decline | Image by

After ten years of research the lead author of the scientific paper David Hodell is quoted as saying, “It’s pretty amazing that we can now estimate rainfall and the relative humidity thousands of years ago. Their work could result in a better understanding of what really did happen to the Mayan civilization all those years ago. They aren’t blaming the decline on the drought alone, but feel it played a significant roll in the downfall.

Sediment Core
Lake Sediment Core | Photo by

There is also another plus that can be gained from this research. Any lake system or marine deposit that possesses the gypsum deposits can be studied for drought conditions even as far away as on Mars. Another piece of the puzzle has been found, but its real significance may yet to be explained.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].