How the Ancient Maya Adapted to Climate Change—And Survived to This Day

Carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth ‘s atmosphere have reached 415 parts per million—a level that last occurred more than three million years ago, long before the evolution of humans. This newsworthiness adds to growing concern that climate change will probable wreak good price on our planet in the coming decades. While Earth has not been this warmly in human history, we can learn about coping with climate change by looking to the Classic Maya refinement that thrived between A.D. 250-950 in Eastern Mesoamerica, the region that is now Guatemala, Belize, Eastern Mexico, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras. many people believe that the ancient Maya civilization ended when it cryptically “ collapsed. ” And it is true that the Maya faced many climate deepen challenges, including extreme droughts that ultimately contributed to the breakdown of their large classical Period city-states. however, the Maya did not disappear : Over 6 million Maya people live chiefly in Eastern Mesoamerica today. What ‘s more, based on my own research in the Northern Yucatan Peninsula and work by my colleagues throughout the broader Maya region, I believe Maya communities ‘ ability to adapt their resource conservation practices played a crucial function in allowing them to survive for vitamin a farseeing as they did. rather of focusing on the concluding stages of Classic Maya culture, society can learn from the practices that enabled it to survive for closely 700 years as we consider the effects of climate change today.

Adapting to dry conditions

The earliest villages in the Maya lowlands date as far back as 2000 B.C., with respective large cities developing over the come 2,000 years. A combination of factors, including environmental changes, contributed to the dislocation of many of these big Preclassic centers after the depart of the first millennium A.D. Beginning about 250 A.D., populations once again began to grow steadily in the Maya lowlands. This was the authoritative Period. Laser map has shown that by the eighth century A.D., twist agrarian systems supported city-states of tens of thousands of people. available evidence suggests that although the climate remained relatively stable for a lot of the classic period, there were periodic periods of decrease precipitation. additionally, each year was sharply divided between dry and showery seasons. Maximizing body of water efficiency and repositing, and timing the plant season correctly, were very important. If the rains did not come as expected for a year or two, communities could rely on store water. however, longer droughts stressed their political hierarchy and complex inter-regional barter networks. The overarching cardinal to survival was learning to adapt to changing environmental conditions. For example, the Maya developed always more elaborate terrace and irrigation networks to protect against land overflow and alimentary depletion. They engineered intricate drain and repositing systems that maximized the capture of rain. They carefully managed forests by monitoring the growth cycles of particularly useful trees. And they developed fuel-efficient technologies, such as bite calcium oxide pit-kilns, to sustain environmental resources .

Coping with megadroughts

available data indicate that a series of particularly intense droughts, lasting anywhere from three to 20 years or more, hit the Maya lowlands in the one-ninth and tenth centuries A.D. Archaeologists are inactive debating the exact time, intensity, shock and placement of these droughts. For example, it appears that not all areas of the Maya lowlands were affected evenly. As of now, these “ megadroughts ” do appear to line up with the final centuries of the classical period. One chief consequence was that people moved around the lowlands. dramatic population growth in certain areas suggests that local communities may have absorbed these migrant groups. There besides is evidence that they adopted new resource conservation practices to mitigate the extra tension of supporting larger numbers of people.

Read more: Jaguar Adaptations

Decline and breakdown

During the one-ninth and tenth centuries A.D., many of the larger classic Maya city-states fell as a result of several interrelate long-run trends, including population growth, increasingly frequent war and an ever more complex bureaucracy. Declining rain made a hazardous position regretful. In the end, several population centers did experience relatively rapid final desertion events. however, different areas experienced breakdowns at versatile times over a period of more than two centuries. Calling this series of events a collapse overlooks Maya communities ‘ ability to persevere for generations against mounting challenges. We can see exchangeable patterns in several other long-familiar civilizations. ancestral Puebloan communities in the U.S. Southwest, once known as Anasazi, developed intricate irrigation networks to farm a naturally arid landscape starting around the beginning of the first millennium A.D. When rain began to decline in the 12th and 13th centuries A.D., they reorganized into smaller units and moved around the landscape. This strategy allowed them to survive longer than they would have by remaining in space. Angkor, the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire located in modern Cambodia, developed very complex irrigation networks starting in the ninth century A.D. to manage annual floods. increasingly irregular annual rain cycles over the course of the 13th and 14th centuries A.D. stressed the system ‘s tractability. difficulty in adapting to these changes was one factor that contributed to Angkor ‘s gradual decay .

All societies need to be flexible

many observers have drawn parallels between black climate shifts in the past and the destiny of modern society. I believe this position is excessively simplistic. current scientific understanding of climate deepen is not perfect, but modern societies clearly know a bunch about what is happening and what needs to be done to avoid catastrophic heating. however, they besides require the will to tackle critical threats. The classic Maya proactively addressed climate challenges by adapting their ecological practices to a changing environment. This helped many communities survive for centuries through waves of intense drought. Their experience, and the continuity of other ancient civilizations, shows the importance of cognition, plan and structural flexibility. There besides is an important difference between natural climate stresses on ancient societies and the human-induced challenge we face today : modern humans can have a far greater impingement on the survival of future generations. The Maya could only react to climatic conditions, but we know how to address the causes of climate change. The challenge is choosing to do indeed.

Kenneth Seligson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, California State University, Dominguez Hills This article is republished from The Conversation under a creative Commons license. Read the master article .

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