Drought, agricultural adaptation, and sociopolitical collapse in the Maya Lowlands

Douglas, Peter M. J. and Pagani, Mark and Canuto, Marcello A. and Brenner, Mark and Hodell, David A. and Eglinton, Timothy I. and Curtis, Jason H. (2015) Drought, agricultural adaptation, and sociopolitical collapse in the Maya Lowlands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112 (18). pp. 5607-5612. ISSN 0027-8424 Online ISSN 1091-6490 DOI 10.1073/pnas.1419133112

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Official URL: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/18/5607

Abstract

Paleoclimate records indicate a series of severe droughts was associated with societal collapse of the Classic Maya during the Terminal Classic period (∼800–950 C.E.). Evidence for drought largely derives from the drier, less populated northern Maya Lowlands but does not explain more pronounced and earlier societal disruption in the relatively humid southern Maya Lowlands. Here we apply hydrogen and carbon isotope compositions of plant wax lipids in two lake sediment cores to assess changes in water availability and land use in both the northern and southern Maya lowlands. We show that relatively more intense drying occurred in the southern lowlands than in the northern lowlands during the Terminal Classic period, consistent with earlier and more persistent societal decline in the south. Our results also indicate a period of substantial drying in the southern Maya Lowlands from ∼200 C.E. to 500 C.E., during the Terminal Preclassic and Early Classic periods. Plant wax carbon isotope records indicate a decline in C4 plants in both lake catchments during the Early Classic period, interpreted to reflect a shift from extensive agriculture to intensive, water-conservative maize cultivation that was motivated by a drying climate. Our results imply that agricultural adaptations developed in response to earlier droughts were initially successful, but failed under the more severe droughts of the Terminal Classic period.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 2015AREP; IA69;
Subjects: 01 - Climate Change and Earth-Ocean Atmosphere Systems
Divisions: 01 - Climate Change and Earth-Ocean Atmosphere Systems
Journal or Publication Title: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume: 112
Page Range: pp. 5607-5612
Identification Number: 10.1073/pnas.1419133112
Depositing User: Sarah Humbert
Date Deposited: 22 May 2015 17:49
Last Modified: 29 May 2015 11:03
URI: http://eprints.esc.cam.ac.uk/id/eprint/3321

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