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Fall of Maya Empire

  1. May 21, 2003 #1
    The once great empire of the Classic Maya fell rather suddenly. (After around 800 A.D. there were no monuments erected with writing on them, population greatly reduced.)

    What do you think happened? Any theories
    1. Food shortage
    2. Internal strife
    3. External attack
    4. Revolution (Similar to internal strife, I guess)
    5. Disease
    6. Natural disaster
    7. Combination of some of above
    8. Other
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2003 #2
    I'm hoping they just smartened up and left for the bush, saying; Let the Chairman of the Board grow his own damn corn now!
  4. May 21, 2003 #3
    So you're kind of going with the internal strife or revolution theory? Or are you suggesting that the peasants just abandoned the leadership and moved off on their own?

    Problem is that Pollen samples taken from borings indicate that at least in some Mayan cities large scale Agriculture continued. For instance, farming around Copan, a large Mayan city in Guatamala, continued on a fairly large scale for another 400 years following 800 A.D.
  5. May 21, 2003 #4
    At the present time I lean toward options 2 & 3.
  6. May 21, 2003 #5


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    1. it's an interesting question and although I have no guess I wd like to know what theories are out there.

      some years back I saw an article where by some means they found evidence of extensive cities (ordinary craftsmen, support people, whatever) surrounding the remains of the political/religious buildings----as you might expect-----and estimated the populations that were supporting the elites.

      There is an elusive idea that includes Boulderhead's "General Strike" or "walk-out" scenario, and your Revolution and Internal Strife.

      I just mean that societies where a small elite controls a large population by means of religion could be vulnerable in a special way in that they can be destroyed by a mere idea.

      "Hey, let's pray to this other god who doesnt require us to pay taxes" (as Boulderhead said, let the High Priest grow his own corn)

      Theocracies have been wonderfully stable in history, I think, but it may be a kind of brittle stability. Something as inconsequential as a heresy or a new viewpoint can on rare occasions make control break down, or fear of it may cause some over-reaction by the elite---like the Inquisition.

      It is interesting too as a case of a society which forgot how to write.
      The Greeks forgot their Linear B writing and had Dark Ages for a couple of hundred years and then learned a whole different alphabet from the Phoenicians. Or?
      It must be some incredible shock to a society that goes so deep and to make people lose the ability to write.
      But it happened to the Mayas apparently.

      What Mayan disaster theories are out there? Economic? Ecological? Military? Theological? (I would not expect a theological disaster theory to be
      taken seriously by archaeologists but it seems to me to be one
    Last edited: May 21, 2003
  7. May 21, 2003 #6
    Re: Re: Fall of Maya Empire

    This seems like a strong possibility to me as well. The Maya social/polical structure was such that the elite and ruling strata were the ones possessing the ability to write. They seemed to have vanished (or became much less public) at about 800 A.D.

    I read an interesting theory in a book, I think it was called "Ancient Mysteries," that mentioned the Maya Calender and their belief that it was a prediction tool. The book told of the Calender predicting political turmoil around the end of one of their cylces, 790 A.D., and suggested that it may have become a self fulfilling prophesy. The rulers saw the prediction as a time to make war with their neighbors (as if ordained). Archaeological evidence such as skulls showing signs of malnutrition indicate that overpopulation within the fragile ecology of the rainforest put a burdon on agriculture. If the land was starting to fail to meet the food needs of the people, and the kings were preoccupied with this "ordained" war, the peasants could have gotten tired of them warring when they were suffering from malnutrition and put the rulers to death or bannished them from power (which would account for the sudden stop of public written works). What do you think?
  8. May 21, 2003 #7


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    Re: Re: Re: Fall of Maya Empire

    I can't add anything. What you describe sounds quite plausible, but unlike you I have not done much reading on Mayas or collected bits of suggestive evidence. So unfortunately have nothing to contribute besides speculation.

    I did see one National Geographic-type of article where archeologists were
    mapping out an impressively large urban area around the temple complex etc. This was the area where the common people had lived and it was totally overgrown. I forget how the archaeologistis managed to detect and map it---must have been very difficult to do.
    There was something about growing edible waterplants in canals or trenches, unfamiliar types of agriculture and economy. But I forget.

    I was interested by the evidence you mentioned----the malnutrition seen in bone, the predictive role of calendar cycles and possibilities of self-fulfilling prophesy. I would like to hear more such hints as to what may have happend if anybody knows others.
  9. May 22, 2003 #8
    This is a really interesting post. Mayan societies continue to be fascinating to this day.
    One thing you should realize about ancient Mesoamerica is that the societies were independant, but interrelated in a sense. The Mayans traded with each other, and with other peoples as well. In fact, major centers such as Tikal, gained wealth through trade. Some scholars believe that the decline of centers such as Tikal in the late classic period were due to social upheaval in central mexico, at the center of Teotihaucan, with whom the Mayans traded. So Tikal in particular was hit with economic turmoil, so the people built less stela, which were written typically by rich conquerors or kings to show off their power and dough.
    The short of it is that the lack of monuments in the late classic period boiled down to lack of money.
  10. May 22, 2003 #9
    Good point.

    Did you know that there is evidence of mass production (Similarity of features and thumb prints on the back of the figures where they were pressed into molds) of clay votive figurines made in Teotihaucan? Mass production a thousand years ago!

    Some of the monuments were also created and written as a kind of propaganda to try and convince the people of the ruling class' right to rule. Such as the so called "Altar Q" found in Copan by archaeologist William Fash that showed all of the past kings of the city with the final one shown recieving the scepter of power from the first king, thus indicating that he was the royal hier. He was probably having some difficulty convincing the people to follow him as leader. Possibly because his intercession on their behalf with the past kings wasn't helping their plight of trying to carve out enough food in the jungle to support 25,000 people.
  11. May 22, 2003 #10

    1. Firstly: it is not certain nor has it been proven that the Maya constructed the pyramids and observatories they lived nearby. They may have utilized them and they obviously set up villages around the monuments... but... there is no way to accurately date the building of the ruins seen today in the Yuccatan Penninsula and surrounding provinces and countries.

      The carcoal and other remains of the villages can be dated but the hewn stone and the lack of mortar between them leaves carbon dating out of the question when it comes to arriving at an accurate date for the ruins.

      It is entirely possible that the ruins were where they are long before the Maya or the Olmec, for that matter, found them... and set up camp and claimed the structures for their own uses... such as rituals and so on.

      What wiped out the Mayans?... there are decendants of the Mayans throughout Central America. So, there was no complete annihilation of the people. What scared them off the temples and ruins they'd adopted? This could be anyone's guess.

      They may have found a function of the temples previously undiscovered by their people that scared the **** out of them and they may have decided to never return. That's what happens when you invade someone else's temple!!
  12. May 22, 2003 #11
    Re: Re: Fall of Maya Empire

    Hi quatumcarl,
    I find it interesting that they just abandoned the city centers (pyramids, etc.) Even to the present day, (as you said, the maya still live all around the area) as if afraid to occupy the area again. I think that part of this may be that they killed their kings and the elite class, around 800 A.D. and fear over reprisal from the dead relatives of the king (they practiced ancester worship).

    It is also true that some of the temples and structures that had writing on them are known to be from earlier dates and the writing was added later as propaganda by the elite class.
  13. May 22, 2003 #12
    Re: Re: Re: Fall of Maya Empire

    Yes its possible there was a revolt that saw the elite killed by the masses... I don't see why that would scare of successors to the throne... you know... "other people's money" and all that.

    But what may have really done the trick is a long procession of education about the pyramids and observatories. As it came around to 800 AD, by that time... the priests and shamen (who were the scientists of the day) may have figured out a few things ab out the artifacts inside the temples.

    The artifacts may have been actual instruments of some sort... such as laser guidance systems and actual observatories...... the laser guidance systems would include a power source such as a capacitor.

    When I return, I will get into the specific findings from one pyramid... the pyramid of the Sun... that point toward the use a capacitor and the insulation required to run one. This will help to clear up my suggestion here... its just a suggestion, remember!
  14. May 22, 2003 #13
    The shift of the Classic period to the Post-Classic period did not signal an end to the Maya empire. According to the book "The Ancient Maya" by Morley, Brainerd and Sharer , the decline was brought upon by different factors.
    1)Tikal's decline, which was associated with strife in Teotihuacan, allowed for competing centers to gain power.
    2)The elite's loss of power due to the commoner's beliefs in the prophesies of change.
    3)population growth: community couldn't feed itself
    4) Traditional land-based trade networks diminished in importance due to the increasing reliance on sea-trade around Yucatan penninsula

    I wouldn't say the Maya "fell" during this time, but power was re-oriented. I mean, the most famous of all Mayan sites, Chichen Itza, came to power in the Post-Classic.

    Are you saying that the Maya didn't create the temples they have been given credit for creating? If so, who do you believe created them? The architecture of such buildings certainly fits with Mayan architecture...
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