Decline in seasonal predictability potentially destabilized Classic Maya societies

Tobias Braun*, Sebastian F. M. Breitenbach, Vanessa Skiba, Franziska A. Lechleitner, Erin E. Ray, Lisa M. Baldini, Victor J. Polyak, James U. L. Baldini, Douglas J. Kennett, Keith M. Prufer, Norbert Marwan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Classic Maya populations living in peri-urban states were highly dependent on seasonally distributed rainfall for reliable surplus crop yields. Despite intense study of the potential impact of decadal to centennial-scale climatic changes on the demise of Classic Maya sociopolitical institutions (750-950 CE), its direct importance remains debated. We provide a detailed analysis of a precisely dated speleothem record from Yok Balum cave, Belize, that reflects local hydroclimatic changes at seasonal scale over the past 1600 years. We find that the initial disintegration of Maya sociopolitical institutions and population decline occurred in the context of a pronounced decrease in the predictability of seasonal rainfall and severe drought between 700 and 800 CE. The failure of Classic Maya societies to successfully adapt to volatile seasonal rainfall dynamics likely contributed to gradual but widespread processes of sociopolitical disintegration. We propose that the complex abandonment of Classic Maya population centres was not solely driven by protracted drought but also aggravated by year-to-year decreases in rainfall predictability, potentially caused by a regional reduction in coherent Intertropical Convergence Zone-driven rainfall.
Original languageEnglish
Article number82
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalCommunications Earth and Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2023

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