Did Climate Change Cause Political Conflicts Among Classic Maya Civilizations? Study Says Yes
Do warming temperatures lead to more conflict? It certainly seems so, and a comprehensive research on the ancient Maya history reveals that the case may have been the same for the Mesoamerican civilization as researchers find how violent conflicts rose along with the temperatures.
Violent Struggles And Temperature Increase
By compiling a list of conflicts from dated Maya monuments and comparing them with published temperature and rainfall records for the Yucatán Peninsula, including parts of southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, researchers found explicit links between violent struggles of Maya communities and temperature rise.
Incredibly, the detailed inscriptions from 30 major Maya locations revealed a substantial increase in conflicts within the 500 year period. From starting out with a maximum of three conflicts every 25 years in the first century when temperatures were significantly lower, the last few centuries between the period of 350 and 900 AD recorded an average of 24 conflicts every 25 years.
"There's been quite a bit of discussion about the impact of climate change on the Classic Maya, but this discussion has focused on drought," said Mark Collard, archaeology professor at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and Canada research chair at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, co-author of the report.
Heat Violence Or Political Tactic?
What caused the violent struggles? Researchers find that the high temperature could have incited some of these incidences, seeing as hot climates have been seen to contribute to increased violence and aggression. However, researchers believe that there is another, more likely explanation for the conflict increase.
Maize is the staple crop of the Maya civilization and with the warming temperatures, it is very likely that drought and large-scale deforestation for territorial expansion lessened the crop yields as the years went on, leading to food shortage.
However, the problem may be more complicated than fighting for crop yields. Researchers believe that even if food shortage was their main concern, attacking neighboring communities for food was unlikely because maize is not a very easy crop to transport.
Instead, with no funds to hold festivals, or crops to feed laborers who build for them massive monuments, the rulers of these communities likely used waging war to maintain their elite and powerful status, and to maintain the support of their people.
Essentially, the wars were likely waged mainly to distract their citizens from the actual problems within their country.
Authors of the study believe that the ancient world's struggle with climate change may reflect our own, with political unrest, and the increasing conflict between nations. As such, they are stressing the importance of taking note of the yearly climate changes that could very possibly lead to long term consequences if action is not taken.
"This is a problem for us, humans, because most of us are oriented towards the short term," said Collard.