WHY THE MAYAN EMPIRE COLLAPSED
INTRODUCTION TO THE MAYANS
The ancient Maya once occupied a vast geographic area in Central and South America. Their civilization extended to parts of what is now Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, and most of Guatemala and Belize. From the third to the ninth century, Maya civilization produced awe-inspiring temples and pyramids, highly accurate calendars, mathematics and hieroglyphic writing, and a complex social and political order. Looking at the impressive remains of ancient Maya civilization, it's hard to imagine how such a society could collapse.
Clues to this collapse can be found at Copan, a Maya site in western Honduras. Copan was once a Classic Maya royal center, the largest site in the southeastern part of the Maya area. Covering about 29 acres, it was built on the banks of the Copan River on an artificial terrace made of close to a million cubic feet of dirt.
Over time, people spread out from the central core and built homes in outlying areas that had formerly been used for crops. Copan's nobles built smaller, rival complexes on sites that were increasingly further from the core.
In spite of its wealth, power, and size, Copan collapsed. No monuments seem to have been produced after A.D. 822. Does this mean that the collapse was sudden? Or is it possible that the society collapsed more gradually?
SOME REASONS FOR THE COLLAPSE
The normal pattern of history shows one civilization succeeding another, either rapidly or gradually. When a large state-level society falls, the population size and density decrease dramatically. Society tends to become less politically centralized. Less investment is made in elements such as architecture, art, and literature. Trade and other economic activities are greatly diminished, and the flow of information among people slows. The ruling elites may change, but...