Centuries before its cities were totally abandoned, the Mayan civilization suffered its first sudden collapse, US and Guatemalan researchers have determined at the Ceibal archaeological site in Guatemala with the aid of the latest radiocarbon dating technology.
"Water scarcity, dwindling economic activity, wars and a breakdown of the family are some of the problems we detected in our archaeological excavations at a site of the Maya Preclassic period of around 200 A.D.," Takesh Inomata of the University of Arizona at Tucson told EFE.
"Because of those social problems, the Mayan cities were abandoned," said the director of the research project in which nine US and Guatemalan specialists are taking part.
Inomata said that while "there's a lot of information and theories" about "the collapse" of the Maya civilization in the Classic period (225-900 A.D.), almost no one has studied the Preclassic period, which continued from around 1,000 B.C. to 225 A.D.
Guatemala's Juan Manuel Palomo, studying for a doctorate in anthropology at UA and one of the researchers of the project, agrees that there is "almost no information about the Preclassic period because it takes a lot of digging to find those antiquities."
The archaeologists of the project, initiated in 2005 in the Guatemalan province of Peten, have dug to a depth of between 2.5 meters (8 feet) and more than 8 meters (26 feet) to recover those remains, the most ancient of which go back to the Maya Middle Preclassic period.
The periods examined in the ruins date from 1,000 B.C. to the Terminal Classic period (830-950 A.D.).
"Why did the Maya civilization collapse? is an important question, for which there is no generally agreed upon answer," Inomata said.
"That's why we need studies that give us a clear idea about how things developed," the archaeologist said, who then spoke of theories that attribute the Mayas' disappearance to climate change and deforestation.
The paper entitled "High-precision radiocarbon dating of political collapse and dynastic origins at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala" will be published Feb. 7 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The archaeologists concluded that social instability in Ceibal led to a first implosion between 150-300 A.D., when the Mayas were governed by dynasties identified as "Divine Dictatorships."
A similar situation would have simultaneously occurred in Mayan centers of the Guatemalan "lowlands."
After that first collapse, a significantly reduced population continued living in Ceibal, where due to a similar combination of factors a second collapse occurred between the years 800-950 A.D. during the Terminal Classic period, when the Mayas' large-scale construction and the carving of hieroglyphics on steles ended.
Palomo told EFE they found items from as far back as 900 B.C.
"In the earliest times the Mayas lived in forests and interacted with people from other places that today are Mexico and Belize," he said.
By Ivan Mejia.