Mild drought caused the decline of Mayans

It has been described as the most advanced civilization of the Americas, but a new study is claiming that a mild drought may have been enough to cause the collapse of the great Mayan civilization.

According to a study published in the journal Science, scientists from Mexico's Yucatan Centre for Scientific Research and the University of Southampton in the UK believe that a modest reduction in rainfall caused the Mayans to exhaust their freshwater supplies.

The BBC explains that researchers used advanced modeling techniques to estimate rainfall and evaporation rates between 800 and 950AD, when the classic Maya civilization went into sharp decline.

They noticed a sustained drop in rainfall of just 25 to 40%, which they say would have caused critical water shortages, and later "societal disruptions and abandonment of cities"

Past studies, the BBC says, had blamed social unrest, disease or deforestation for its demise.

News 24 explains that the ancient Mayan empire once stretched across southern Mexico and northern Central America, covering an area about the size of Texas.  It describes how "for unknown reasons" the number of people declined catastrophically and suddenly. 

However, the new study says that the drop in rainfall, reflected in fewer tropical storms and heavy rainfalls, would have meant there was nothing to water crops, according to LiveScience.

"Summer was the main season for cultivation and replenishment of Maya freshwater storage systems and there are no rivers in the Yucatan lowlands," researcher and paleoclimatologist at the University of Southampton in England, Eelco Rohling, said.  He adds that the Maya had become reliant on continuous rainfall supplies and their farm had become dependent on normal levels of rain.

Rohling emphasized that climate may not have ended the ancient Mayan civilization but rather led to the collapse of the society through unrest and disease.

More from GlobalPost:  11/11/11 – Is there a meaning?

More from GlobalPost: Reviving Mayan cuisine

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.