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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

High resolution stalagmite climate record from the Yucat\ an Peninsula spanning the Maya terminal classic period

Authors:

Martín Medina-Elizalde

Stephen Burns

David Lea

Yemane Asmerom

Lucien von Gunten

Victor Polyak

Mathias Vuille

A. Karmalkar

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
2010
Secondary Title:
Earth and Planetary Science Letters
ISSN:
0012821X
DOI:
10.1016/j.epsl.2010.08.016
Pages:
255-262
Volume:
298
Year:
2010
Date:
09/2010

Abstract

The decline of the Classic Maya civilization was complex and geographically variable, and occurred over a   150-year interval, known as the Terminal Classic Period (TCP, C.E. 800–950). Paleoclimate studies based on lake sediments from the Yucat\ an Peninsula lowlands suggested that drought prevailed during the TCP and was likely an important factor in the disintegration of the Classic Maya civilization. The lacustrine evidence for decades of severe drought in the Yucat\ an Peninsula, however, does not readily explain the long 150-year socio-political decline of the Classic Maya civilization. Here we present a new, absolute-dated, high-resolution stalagmite δ18O record from the northwest Yucat\ an Peninsula that provides a much more detailed picture of climate variability during the last 1500 years. Direct calibration between stalagmite δ18O and rainfall amount offers the first quantitative estimation of rainfall variability during the Terminal Classic Period. Our results show that eight severe droughts, lasting from 3 to 18 years, occurred during major depopulation events of Classic Maya city-states. During these droughts, rainfall was reduced by 52% to 36%. The number and short duration of the dry intervals help explain why the TCP collapse of the Mayan civilization occurred over 150 years.