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Letters to Nature
Nature 375, 391 - 394 (01 June 1995); doi:10.1038/375391a0

Possible role of climate in the collapse of Classic Maya civilization

David A. Hodell*, Jason H. Curtis* & Mark  Brenner

*Department of Geology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA
Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32653, USA

THE Maya civilization developed around 3,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, and after flourishing during the so-called Classic period, it collapsed around 750–900 AD1. It has been specula ted2–6 that climate change may have played a part in this collapse. But efforts to reconstruct the last three millennia of Mesoamerican climate using palynological methods have met with equivocal success, because human-mediated deforestation has altered regional vegetation in ways that mimic climate shifts, making it difficult to discriminate between natural and anthropogenic changes7–15. Here we use temporal variations in oxygen isotope and sediment composition in a 4.9-m sediment core from Lake Chichancanab, Mexico, to reconstruct a continuous record of Holocene climate change for the central Yucatan peninsula. The interval between 1,300 and 1,100 yr BP (AD 800–1,000) was the driest of the middle to late Holocene epoch, and coincided with the collapse of Classic Maya civilization. This continuous climate proxy record thus provides evidence of climate deterioration in the Maya region during the terminal Classic period.

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