Droughtand the maya collapse

Richardson B. Gill, Paul A. Mayewski, Johan Nyberg, Gerald H. Haug, Larry C. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Between a.d. 760 and 930, millions of Maya disappeared from the Earth. We examine changes in the physical environment in which the Maya lived. The ice-core evidence from Greenland indicates that around the time of the Maya Collapse, a minimum in solar insolation and a low in solar activity occurred, accompanied by severe cold and dryness over Greenland, indicating hemispheric climatic conditions propitious for drought in the Maya Lowlands. In the northeastern Caribbean, sea-surface salinity (SSS) was lowered. The most severe drought of the past 7,000 years devastated the Yucatan Peninsula. Large Maya cities collapsed in four phases of abandonment spaced about fifty years apart around a.d. 760, 810, 860, and 910. A new core taken from Lake Chichancanab in Quintana Roo shows three peak episodes of brutal drought within a 150- to 200-year drought. A marine core from the Cariaco Basin off Venezuela precisely dates four severe drought episodes to 760, 810, 860, and 910, coincident with the four phases of abandonment of cities. The long-term drought appears to have lasted from 760 to 930 in the Cariaco Basin. The climatic changes were the most drastic the Maya had faced in the preceding 1,500 years and the most severe of the preceding 7,000 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-302
Number of pages20
JournalAncient Mesoamerica
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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