Classic Period collapse of the Central Maya Lowlands: insights about human-environment relationships for sustainability

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 28;109(35):13908-14. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1210106109. Epub 2012 Aug 21.


The ninth century collapse and abandonment of the Central Maya Lowlands in the Yucatán peninsular region were the result of complex human-environment interactions. Large-scale Maya landscape alterations and demands placed on resources and ecosystem services generated high-stress environmental conditions that were amplified by increasing climatic aridity. Coincident with this stress, the flow of commerce shifted from land transit across the peninsula to sea-borne transit around it. These changing socioeconomic and environmental conditions generated increasing societal conflicts, diminished control by the Maya elite, and led to decisions to move elsewhere in the peninsular region rather than incur the high costs of maintaining the human-environment systems in place. After abandonment, the environment of the Central Maya Lowlands largely recovered, although altered from its state before Maya occupation; the population never recovered. This history and the spatial and temporal variability in the pattern of collapse and abandonment throughout the Maya lowlands support the case for different conditions, opportunities, and constraints in the prevailing human-environment systems and the decisions to confront them. The Maya case lends insights for the use of paleo- and historical analogs to inform contemporary global environmental change and sustainability.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Civilization / history*
  • Commerce / history
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / history*
  • Droughts
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environment*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Indians, Central American / history*
  • Mexico
  • Trees