The political collapse of Chichén Itzá in climatic and cultural context

Julie A. Hoggarth, Sebastian Breitenbach, Brendan J. Culleton, Claire E. Ebert, Marilyn A. Masson, Douglas J. Kennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Chichén Itzá dominated the political landscape of the northern Yucatán during the Terminal Classic Period (AD 800–1000). Chronological details of the rise and fall of this important polity are obscure because of the limited corpus of dated hieroglyphic records and by a restricted set of radiocarbon dates for the site. Here we compile and review these data and evaluate them within the context of political and climatic change in northern Yucatán at the end of the Classic period. The available data point to the end of elite activity at Chichén Itzá around AD 1000, a century after the collapse of Puuc Maya cities and other interior centers. Evidence supports a population shift in
the eleventh century towards some coastal locations during a time associated with the end of monumental construction and art at Chichén Itzá. Our results suggest that regional political disintegration came in two waves. The first was the asynchronous collapse of multiple polities between AD 850 and 925 associated with a regional drying trend and punctuated by a series of multi-decadal droughts in the ninth and tenth centuries. The second wave was the political collapse at Chichén Itzá that coincides with the longest and most severe drought recorded in regional climate records between AD 1000 and 1100. This is a time that some scholars have characterized as a “dark age” across the northern Maya lowlands. Political developments during the Postclassic period (AD 1000–1517) correspond with a return to higher rainfall. These patterns support a strong relationship between political
disintegration and climatic stress in the Maya lowlands. This research employs Bayesian radiocarbon models in conjunction with calendar dates on carved monuments and climate proxies to evaluate the rise and fall of Maya political centers and serves as an example of the impact of climate change on rainfall-dependent societies in Mesoamerica.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2016


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