Rise and fall of Maya Civilization Essay (Supporting Theories and Reasons)

The Mayan society comprised of a baffling civilization of individuals who up to date have remained mysterious to numerous academic researchers (Milbrath & Dowd, 2015). The culture can be traced in the Yucatan Peninsula both as a border and a portion of Mesoamerica. On the southwestern part of Gulf of Mexico is the Yucatan Peninsula which formed a share of Mesoamerica at the time. The Mayan civilization transformed throughout time before its ultimate collapse. The Mayans commenced their transformative development process in the middle Pre-Classic time. The civilization also underwent numerous changes after the Middle Pre-Classic time, through different periods including, Terminal Classic and Post-Classic Conquest time among others (Demarest, 2004). Some of these changes were driven by various forces that resulted in the fall of Maya. The factors leading to its collapse include overpopulation, military threat from foreign nations and warfare.

Fall of Mayan Civilization Video

Reasons resulting in the Fall of Maya

The initial studies in the fall of Maya developed different suppositions on the predominant causes of the collapse of the civilization with some being more credible than others. Some of the factors leading to the fall of the Maya civilization as has been previously identified include social revolution, maladies, famines, drought, overpopulation, interferences with the trade routes, external attacks, hurricanes, and earthquakes (Mithen, 2012). However, the decoding of the various writings by the Maya mentions barely anything on the subject. In this light, coming up with the accurate response to the factors leading to the fall of Maya requires restructuring of the past with the available materials. The associations amid the city-states worsened towards the end of the 8th century.  The relations deterioration resulted in the decline in exchange and upsurge of armed clashes. Due to the increased death rate, there is increased evidence to show the lack of new constructions amid the 830 CE (Stross, 1987). The Maya had a liking of writing dates on monuments and stelae. Therefore, the lack monuments bearing dates particularly after the 910 CE especially in the lowlands is proof that no constructions were taking place. There is also an enormous body of evidence depicting vast areas being deserted and the elites and royal families vanishing untraceable. Consequently, the fall of Maya can be ruled out as small-scale leaving given that abandonment had happened formerly in multiple times.

The fall can also be dismissed as prompt but instead a gradual process of deterioration that took place over 150 years. Such a gradual decline can be connected to a mixture of diseases pandemic and naturally occurring disasters for example earthquakes. Nevertheless, in both cases, populations typically revamps quickly. On the other hand, there is a ton of empty gaps regarding the unknown causes of fall of Maya civilization. There a proposition that the precise number of individuals amid the Late Classic period. Additionally, Mithen (2012) postulates that it is unclear how farming was practiced, administered and controlled. On the other hand, based on the existing knowledge, the following three predominant suppositions have been termed as the factors leading to the fall of Maya.

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In the first place, warfare had formed a share of the Mayan culture for decades. The upsurge and extent increase before the fall resulted in the cities constructing fortifications. Initially, the war had been viewed as symbolic given that a defeat only led to a few individuals being taken as captives. However, towards the end of the Late Classic period, battles appear to become priorities and consequently obliterating to all the individual participating (Stross, 1987). Further, the subjugation of territory and seizing of a huge number of sacrificial targets also heightened with the former possibly objected towards developing agricultural production and obtain assets. The latter could have been purposed to appease the gods and resume unwavering times like the previous centuries. The existence of numerous arrows heads in particular areas in the cities to points to the dangerous nature the towns had become.

Fall of Mayan Society Due to External Military Threats

The following reason for collapse has been determined as external military threats. This supposition is backed by particular archaeological discoveries, especially at Ceibal. At Ceibal, there are statues referred to as ‘Wat’ul’ that are different from the Maya mustache and hair design yet in Maya costume (Key to Mayan Writing Found in Long Forgotten Book., 1935). There is also a demonstration of a stature in a mask of Ehecatl. There is also the existence of an Orange pottery that was made in the Gulf Coast. Despite these descriptions, this evidence on threats to foreign attacks does not significantly suffice as little proof is present on the deliberate obliteration of cities.

Fall of Maya Due to Overpopulation

The subsequent theory explaining the fall of Maya is overpopulation. Mithen (2012) claims that strained food production escalated to the unsustainable levels. Increased archeological evidence perpetually demonstrates that the Maya cities the outlying habitations were overly populated that previously identified. Further, scientific proof depicts that the Maya lowlands faced a continuous cycle of droughts amid 800 to 1050 CE. Nevertheless, not all cities experienced the drought given that some rivers and lakes did not dry out. The areas facing water shortages, insufficient rain, and continued crop failure shows that the larger part of the population were farmers. Due to the droughts and subsequently failure of crops, the larger population attacked the ruling class and the elites as they proved to no longer be the protectors of the society or link to gods such as that of rain (Chahk) (Stross, 1987). The fall of the city infrastructure accompanied by social structures could have resulted in the migration of a part of the population to the north and south. Nonetheless, there is no archeological proof showing the large populations moving only that a large part of Maya lowlands was abandoned.

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Fall of Maya Society Due to the Collapse of Trade Routes

Different scholars have also connected the fall of the Mayan civilization to the collapse of trade routes (Mateo‐Toledo, 2003). These scholars’ conjectures that the collapse of the Maya civilization is connected to the fall of the complex exchange systems particularly those relating to the Teotihuacan, a central Mexican City. Following the advanced knowledge in the accounting of Mesoamerica, it is clear forced rearrangement of economic associations across the Gulf Coast and Highland Mesoamerica civilizations arguably led to the collapse of Teotihuacan during 700-750. This restructuring of associations between societies is viewed to have given the fall of the Maya civilization somewhat later date. Nonetheless, following the identification and decoding of events and the time of occurrence, Milbrath & Dowd (2015) indicates that the most profound Teotihuacan effect was throughout the 4th and 5th centuries. Additionally, during 600-650, the civilization of Teotihuacan commenced mislaying its influence and consequently creating chances that they began to leave the city. This contention is largely variant with the previously held notion that the people of Teotihuacan influence lessened throughout the 700-750. With the affirming of the fresh decline dates that are 600-650, the Maya are viewed to have lived on for another century than was initially argued. Therefore, instead of the Teotihuacan unswervingly following the fall of the Maya, their collapse is currently viewed as resulting in the 6th-century ‘hiatus.’

The Systemic Ecological Decline Theory

Another school of thought explaining the fall of the Maya is the systematic ecological decline theory. This theory centers on the worsening of farming and resources status in the late classical period. Milbrath & Dowd (2015) points out that initially scholars claimed that majority of Maya agriculture was reliant on the modest slash-and-burn mechanism. Founded on this system, the supposition of soil exhaustion in 1921 was furthered by Orator F. Cook. Soil exhaustion is also connected to savanna grassland rivalry and increased agriculture.

Later studies point out and demonstrate an intricate assortment of intensive agricultural methods used by the civilization leading to the increased populace in the Classic Maya polities. Also, contemporary archeologists understand the intricate intensive and profitable farming mechanisms of the early Maya and a few of the Maya farming techniques that have not been replicated today (Mithen, 2012). Rigorous farming mechanisms were established and used by the entire Mesoamerican civilizations to support food generation and proffer them a competitive benefit compared to other societies of the time. These rigorous farming methods comprised canals, seasonal swamping (bajos), dikes, irrigation, dams, warehousing systems and swamp reclamation. Other methods include swidden systems, fertilizers as human feces, hydraulic systems and water reservoirs among others that have not been comprehended. In this way, the systematic ecological decline is observed through siltation, deforestation and fall of biodiversity. Further, Mesoamericans successfully misused the issue of tropical rainforest for around 1500 years. The methods of farming used by the civilization largely relied on increased supply of water.

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Joseph Tainter, an anthropologist, lengthily wrote regarding the fall of the Southern Lowland Maya. Tainter arguments about the collapse of the Maya civilization affirms the decline springing from forced reduced productivity due to ecological changes (Mithen, 2012). Tainter largely focused on the expansion and the decreasing of marginal returns coming from the up surging social intricacies of the rivaling Maya polities. Psychologist Julian Jaynes supposed that the fall of the Maya resulted from the fiasco in the social regulation systems of religious systems and political influence. Jaynes contend that the increasing socioeconomic difficulty that overcame the power of the customary rituals and the king’s influence to stir compliance.

Conclusion of The Rise and Fall of Maya Essay

In outline, various changes propelled the various forces that resulted in the fall of Maya. The factors leading to the collapse of Maya include overpopulation, military threat from foreign nations and warfare. For instance, the collapse has been determined to result from external military threats. This supposition is backed by particular archaeological discoveries, especially at Ceibal. The subsequent theory explaining the fall of Maya is overpopulation claims that strained food production escalated to the unsustainable levels. Augmented archeological evidence continually validates that the Maya cities the outlying habitations were overly populated that previously identified. Also, warfare had formed a part of the Mayan culture for decades. The upsurge and extent increase before the fall resulted in the cities constructing fortifications.


Demarest, A. A. (2004). The Mystery and Challenge of the ancient Maya.  Ancient Maya: The rise and fall of a rainforest civilization. (pp. 1-6) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Key to Mayan Writing Found in Long Forgotten Book. (February 16, 1935). The Science News-Letter, 27, 723, 99.

Mateo‐Toledo, B. (April, 2003). The Use of Languages’ Names: The Mayan Case. International Journal of American Linguistics, 69, 2, 151-153.

Milbrath, S., & Dowd, A. S. (2015). The Maya Deluge Myth and Dresden Codex Page 74: Not the End but the Eternal Regeneration of the World. Cosmology, calendars, and horizon-based astronomy in ancient Mesoamerica. (pp. 197-226) Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado.

Mithen, S. J. (2012). LIFE AND DEATH OF THE WATER LILY MONSTER Water and the rise and fall of Mayan civilization, 2000 BC–AD 1000. Thirst: Water and power in the ancient world. (pp. 223-255) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Stross, B. (Winter, 1987). Mayan Languages and Their Speakers: An Introduction. Anthropological Linguistics, 29, 4, 329-331.Bottom of Form

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