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9427Ma: Response to Response on Drought and the Maya Collapse

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  • Jerry Ek
    Jan 21, 2003
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      Although agriculture and environmental reconstruction are not my
      specialty, I could not help but add some comments on the recent
      debate concerning drought models for the Maya collapse.

      In Response to Jeff Baker, Martin Peach commented that:

      >Hodell et al (Science 292 p1367) have the major drought starting
      >around AD 750, ie the 8th century, in the central Yucatan. One
      >might expect that the main population effects of a severe drought
      >would show up at the beginning of the period as the system was
      >caught off guard with several failed harvests in succession, and
      >that after no more than a few decades, the survivors would have
      >learned to live under the new regime, for instance by learning to
      >use the groundwater aquifers instead of rainfall to irrigate
      >crops.
      >
      >It also seems to me that the climate data from lake cores is
      >likely more accurate than current population estimates. It may be
      >for instance that as the climate dried out, scattered farmers
      >moved to locations with cenotes, giving rise a population
      >increase at these centres, while the corresponding depopulation
      >of the hinterland would go unnoticed using current archaological
      >methods.

      This speculative reconstruction simply does not fit the data.
      The population expansion that is very well documented in the
      archaeological data from the Puuc region contradicts any model of
      migrations for the purpose of accessing ground water aquifers.
      The Puuc region is a series of hills located high above the water
      table, making the use of underground water sources (for any
      purpose, much less irrigation), impossible.

      If the eighth century was a period of widespread draught, it
      would seem very odd that centers in the Puuc (which relied on
      very unstable rainwater resources), would be flourishing at this
      time. This is part of a general trend of population expansion
      during the Terminal Classic/Early Postclassic in Yucatan, which
      is the driest part of the Maya area. Pushing this drought
      back to the 8th century does not put the model in accordance with
      the archaeological data, especially when one considers the new
      chronologies being proposed in Yucatan that are pushing back the
      periods of expansion at sites like Chichen. Jeff Baker was
      correct in his statement that drought models do not fit the data
      for this part of the Lowlands.

      Jerry Ek


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      All rights reserved.
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