Scientists finally solved the mystery of why the Mayans vanished after thousands of years
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After years of speculation and bizarre conspiracy theories, scientists think they've finally found the reasons why the complex Mayan civilisation simply disappeared after thriving for thousands of years.
How and why the population of 19 million could suddenly dissipate was long considered one of the ancient world's most intriguing mysteries.
The urbanised lowlands of the Yucatan peninsula, like Tikal, decayed from bustling cities to ruins over a 100-year period - but nobody knew exactly why.
From educated guesses on what happened like war and pandemics to those who think alien invasion or supernatural forces were at work - we think we have an answer - and it's making us feel a little uncomfortable.
In his 2005 book Collapse, American geographer, historian, ornithologist, and popular science author, Jared Diamond put forward the theory that a prolonged drought, which was accelerated and made worse by deforestation, was the final straw that made a remarkable civilisation crumble.
The hypothesis was put to the test with archaeological evidence and environmental data.
Results confirmed in 2012 that the collapse of an entire culture could be put down to a self-created environmental disaster.
One study found that chopping down too many trees to make way for farming and for fuel to cook the lime plaster for their breathtaking structures (it took a whopping 20 trees to produce just one square meter of cityscape), led to the land having a reduced ability to absorb solar radiation.
This meant less water evaporated, meaning fewer clouds and 5-15 percent less rain over the course of a century.
A study, published by researchers from Columbia University used the cities' booming population numbers and measurements of cleared land to run simulations on how this would have caused a drought, failed crops and a lack of trade for wealth, and, ultimately, the Mayans were forced to abandon their lowlands home to find food.
But, while all this science seems complex, the sophisticated Mayans knew what they were doing.
According to B.L. Turner, the lead author of one of the study, they knew all about how to survive in their environment and still continued the deforestation until their society was ruined. Sound familiar?
Climate modeller at the University of Nebraska, Robert Oglesby, who worked on the second study, says that our reshaping of the environment could also often have unintended consequences— like the deforestation currently happening in Guatemala, which the Mayans once called home.
The scary part? Just like the Mayans, we may not realise the consequences on our actions until it's too late to save ourselves.