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November 9 2012

For Ancient Maya, Climate Change Giveth and Taketh Away


For centuries, the mystery of the Maya civilization’s rise and fall has captivated explorers and scholars. In one of the first accounts of the region, the American explorer John Lloyd Stephens wrote: “Here were the remains of a cultivated, polished, and peculiar people, who had passed through all the stages incident to the rise and fall of nations; reached their golden age, and perished, entirely unknown.”

“To us,” he continued in an 1841 travel journal, “it was all a mystery.”

Now, with the help of modern science, part of that mystery is being put to rest. A new analysis of 2,000-year-old stalagmites suggests the role that climate change played in both the Maya civilization’s achievements and in its undoing.

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