Drought-Induced Civil Conflict Among the Ancient Maya

Douglas J. Kennett*, Marilyn Masson, Carlos Peraza Lope, Stanley Serafin, Richard J. George, Tom C. Spencer, Julie A. Hoggarth, Brendan J. Culleton, Thomas K. Harper, Keith M. Prufer, Susan Milbrath, Bradley W. Russell, Eunice Uc González, Weston C. McCool, Valorie V. Aquino, Elizabeth H. Paris, Jason H. Curtis, Norbert Marwan, Mingua Zhang, Yemane AsmeromVictor J. Polyak, Stacy A. Carolin, Daniel H. James, Andrew J. Mason, Gideon M. Henderson, Mark Brenner, James U. L. Baldini, Sebastian F. M. Breitenbach, David A. Hodell*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract: The influence of climate change on civil conflict and societal instability in the premodern world is a subject of much debate, in part because of the limited temporal or disciplinary scope of case studies. We present a transdisciplinary case study that combines archeological, historical, and paleoclimate datasets to explore the dynamic, shifting relationships among climate change, civil conflict, and political collapse at Mayapan, the largest Postclassic Maya capital of the Yucatán Peninsula in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries CE. Multiple data sources indicate that civil conflict increased significantly and generalized linear modeling correlates strife in the city with drought conditions between 1400 and 1450 cal. CE. We argue that prolonged drought escalated rival factional tensions, but subsequent adaptations reveal regional-scale resiliency, ensuring that Maya political and economic structures endured until European contact in the early sixteenth century CE.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3911
Number of pages10
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2022


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