An ancient lake holds secrets to Yucatán’s Mayan civilization’s mysterious collapse, study finds

Repeating Islands


A report by Kate Furby for The Washington Post.

The sediment under a lake in Mexico contains some of the long-sought answers to the mystery of the Mayan demise.

Ancient Mayans, primarily concentrated in what is now the Yucatan Peninsula, were among the most advanced civilizations of their time. Mayans were some of the first to build cities. They used astronomy to advance agricultural production, and they created calendars and used advanced mathematics. But despite all of their progress, the Mayan empire, built over thousands of years, may have crumbled in just a few hundred.

Scientists have several theories about why the collapse happened, including deforestation, overpopulation and extreme drought. New research, published in Science Thursday, focuses on the drought and suggests, for the first time, how extreme it was.

While analyzing sediment under Lake Chichancanab on the Yucatan Peninsula, scientists found a 50 percent decrease in annual precipitation over more than 100…

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