A Monumental Discovery
Scientists and archaeologists have recently made a revolutionary discovery of Mayan culture, uncovering nearly 60,000 new structures in a massive archaeological find in the Mayan ruins of Guatemala, BBC.com reports.
Using LiDAR technology, which is short for “light detection and ranging,” scientists and archaeologists were able to discern just how massive the Mayan ruins in Northern Peten were from under a dense canopy of leaves and rainforest foliage.
As detailed by BBC.com, with LiDAR, millions of laser pulses are emitted from a plane or helicopter every four seconds to bounce off the terrain, working almost like echolocation. The wavelengths are then measured, giving quite accurate information about a location’s topography.
The data received from this method drew a very different picture from what scientists and archaeologists assumed the ruins looked like. What was thought to be a scattering of Mayan ruins across the Guatemalan landscape ended up being a large, metropolis, potentially housing upwards of 20 million people. Researchers had previously speculated that the area was home to at most two million people.
“Everything is turned on its head,” Thomas Garrison, an archaeologist from Ithaca college told the BBC. Garrison believes the size of the population could be “three or four times greater than previously thought.”
The Mayan architecture uncovered dispelled assumptions researchers had about the area, believing that the Mayan cities were widely dispersed. There is evidence of infrastructures like elevated causeways and complex irrigation systems, suggesting that the infrastructure supported a robust population, artnews.com reports.
Also astonishing to researchers is just how much infrastructure was devoted to military defense. As artnews.com reports, the Mayan cities had defensive structures such as ramparts and fortresses.
According to Garrison, “Warfare wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization, it was large scale and systematic, and it endured over many years.”
Mayan Discoveries and Inventions
In Mexico, there is a pyramid built by the Maya called Chichén Itzá that is built to align with the Sun in such a way that it casts a shadow on itself during the Fall and Spring Equinox. This shadow lines up with the head of a statue of a serpent god. As the sun sets, this shadow play makes it appear as if the serpent is slithering its way into the Earth.
This is just one of the examples of how advanced, creative and innovative the Maya were. When it comes to their calendar system, the Mayans had two: The Calendar Round, a cyclical calendar that reset every 52 years, and the Long Count Calendar, which counted forward from a fixed date in the past, making it more linear. Both calendars are just as accurate as the one we used today.
The Mayans used astrological timing in their agriculture, and could even predict solar eclipses. They were producing rubber thousands of years before Charles Goodyear patented it. They are also part of the reason we have and are able to enjoy the pleasure of chocolate.
What Caused the End of the Mayan Civilization?
One of the biggest mysteries of history is what caused the collapse of the Mayan civilization. The empire lasted for over 2,000 years, enjoying its peak from 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., but in a span of a century, 800 A.D. to 900 A.D. the Mayan collapse came suddenly and quickly.
There are many well-thought-out theories as to why the Mayan civilization could have experienced such a dramatic decline. Was it a widespread disease? Did warfare and political strife cause too much upheaval? Did drought cause the abrupt end of the Mayan civilization?
The idea that it was a drought that brought the fall of the Mayan empire is quickly picking up steam, especially now that the true scope and size of the Mayan ruins in Guatemala are becoming apparent. For a civilization as complex and intricate as the Mayan empire was (some researchers are comparing the ruins as on par with Ancient Greece and China) to experience total collapse, most likely it was due to some ecological circumstance.
The Mayan empire wouldn’t be the first civilization to fall at the hands of drought. Drought could in fact be the root of the reason the Mayans were experiencing other turmoil like wars and decreased trade before their collapse. A decline in resources can cause conflict as cities and empires fight for what is left.
The Mayans relied heavily on rainwater for agriculture, and if the climate experienced some sort of change, which there is also evidence of, this may have had a drastic effect on the food supply.
Some schools of thought believe that the constant warfare, revolution, and political turmoil caused enough destruction to collapse the Mayan empire. However, the counter to this theory is that no civilization in recorded history has suffered a complete collapse as a result of political upheavals and heavy warfare.
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