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World Mysteries – Mysterious Disappearance of Ancient Mayan Civilization

Updated on June 16, 2015
The Mayan site of Palenque
The Mayan site of Palenque | Source

Where Was Mayan Civilization Located?

Ancient Mayan civilization originated in the Yucatan area around 2600 B.C. The earliest Mayan settlements were in the Pre-Classic Period (1800 B.C). The greatest period of Mayan civilization was from 250 A.D. to 900 A.D and after that period this civilization was mysteriously vanished from history. Mayan civilization was located around an area known as Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica includes modern Guatemala, Belize, western parts of Honduras, El Salvador and some parts of Mexico.

Ancient Mayan Civilization

Ancient Mayan civilization is regarded as one of the classical civilization of the past because of their advanced and very prosperous living standard. They excelled in hieroglyph writing, in doing agriculture, in skilled works such as pottery and in intelligent fields such as mathematics, calendar-making etc. Mayans gave great contributions to mathematics, astronomy and architecture. Their excellence in architecture was evident in the creation of many temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories which were made using the technologies available at that time.

Rise and Fall of Mayan Empire

Mayan Construction located in the north of Belize
Mayan Construction located in the north of Belize | Source

Many great stone cities were made in that period by Mayans and their capital city was Tikal. In the peak time of Mayan civilization, a total population of around 2,000,000 was lived in nearly 40 cities. The foremost Mayan cities in that period were Tikal, Copan, Bonampak, Calakmul, Rio Bec, Uaxactun and Dos Pilas. These cities were almost thickly populated at that time and each of these cities was having a population ranging from 5,000 to 50,000. Mayans have created distinctive paths between these cities to create easiness of the transaction and the transportation between the people.

The Digital Image of Paris Codex
The Digital Image of Paris Codex | Source

Mayans had developed a system of hieroglyph writing and they have left many stone carvings and inscriptions on the buildings and temples they built. Mayans knew the skill to make paper from the barks of trees and they used these papers for writing. Books made of these papers were known as codices and four such codices (Dresden Codex, Madud Codex, Paris Codex and Grolier Codex) were found during the excavations done by the archeologists. Mayans used a single language for communication in their earlier stage, but in the latter stages of the civilization several other languages were developed and used. Now also, the Mayan people living in modern Mexico and Central America speak as many as 70 different Mayan languages.

Pages of the "Dresden” Codex
Pages of the "Dresden” Codex | Source
A Mayan Site
A Mayan Site

Mayans were very religious people and they built many temples and pyramids for worshiping gods. They worshiped different natural and heavenly objects as gods which include sun, moon and rain. Excavations by the modern archeologists unearthed the structures of many temples, palaces, plazas and pyramids from the location of Mayan civilization. Most of the temples built by the Mayans were in a stepped pyramid shape and some of the palaces were also built in this style.

Ancient Mayan Construction
Ancient Mayan Construction

Mayan’s agriculture fields were prepared by clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and they built underwater reservoirs in these fields for storing rainwater, because groundwater was scarce in those areas. Earliest Mayan crops were beans, corns, squash and cassava. Mayans have practiced ‘slash and burn’ type agriculture method, because of the exceptional nature of the land.

Mayan Calendar
Mayan Calendar | Source

Mayans have developed many other skills in addition to agriculture and architecture. Their skills in doing pottery works and weaving were excellent. Mayans had mastered in mathematics and had the knowledge to use the value of zero in their mathematical calculations. The most amazing contribution of Mayans was the complex calendar system based on 365 days. Mayan calendar was used by different cultures in Central America and it is still in use in some of the Mayan communities exists today. This calendar moves in cycles and last cycle ends in December 21st of the year 2012.

Mysteries of Mayan Civilization

The Castle of Kukulcan in Chichen Itza, Mexico.
The Castle of Kukulcan in Chichen Itza, Mexico. | Source

Disappearance of Ancient Mayan Civilization

The topmost time of Mayan civilization was from 200 A.D. to 900 A.D. After this period (900 A.D.) because of some unknown reason or reasons they have abandoned their cities and this great civilization collapsed. Original cause for this mysterious decline of the civilization is still unknown. In some areas of Yucatan, a few Mayan cities like Uxmal, Mayapan, Chichen Itza were survived even after this downfall and flourished till the invasion of Spaniards in 16the century A.D.

The fall of Mayan civilization is one of the history’s great mysteries. Many theories have been put forward to explain the mysterious disappearance of Mayans. Overpopulation and the disintegration of the agricultural system might have been the reasons for this decline. But some other reasons were also indicated by the scholars for the disappearance of this civilization and some of them are as below:

Another Mayan Construction
Another Mayan Construction
  • AGRICULTURAL MISHAP: Mayan civilization located in a land area where water was scarce to fulfill their agricultural necessities. They used ‘slash and burn’ agricultural method on small plots for growing corn, beans and squash. When the population grew, Mayans were forced to increase their food production which might have ended in some agricultural calamity. This could have negatively affected the food supply to the community which naturally causes the downfall of the civilization.

A Mayan Vessel found from Northern Guatemala
A Mayan Vessel found from Northern Guatemala | Source
  • INTERNAL CONFLICTS: Mayans were considered as a peaceful community in the initial studies, but this concept changed by the exposure of new historical evidences. These records showed that many of the Mayan cities were engaged in fierce quarrels with each other that frequently ended in war. This warring nature of Mayans might have become a reason for economic disaster and collateral damage which could have accelerated the decline of the civilization.

Mayan Temple
Mayan Temple
  • NATURAL UPHEAVALS: Natural calamities like earthquake, volcanic eruption or sudden epidemic disease could have destroyed the cities and the people. Though some of the Mayan cities survived even after the decline, many of their cities and a good part of the population disappeared mysteriously after 900 A.D. According to some of the archeologists, natural catastrophic events played an important role in this sudden decline.

A Mayan Creation
A Mayan Creation | Source
  • FOOD SHORTAGE: Mayans were highly depended on the agricultural activities along with hunting, fishing etc. for their survival. Immediate changes in the climatic conditions such as floods and droughts could have severely affected their food supply. A sudden and drastic change in the climatic condition in 900 A.D. might have negatively affected the agricultural deeds, fishing and hunting of the Mayans reducing the quantity of their food supply to a much lower level than the measure required for the survival of the community. Scarcity of the food and the changes in the surroundings could have the reason for the decline of the civilization.

Ceramic Bowl by Mayans
Ceramic Bowl by Mayans | Source
  • CLASS HOSTILITIES: Mayans were greatly interested in their architectural works to build cities, palaces and temples. To carry out these works, a good percentage of the population was to be engaged in construction works alone. The food requirements of these workers were also have to be met the by the people who were doing agricultural works. Non-availability of the sufficient food for the working class could have led to some dispute against the ruling class and this social unrest might have been one of the reasons for the sudden decline of the civilization.

Given above are some of the logical explanations for the mysterious disappearance of a classic civilization which had existed for a long period of time in a prospered condition. But nobody believes that any one of the above reasons is the sole cause for the decline of Mayan civilization; but a combination of more than one of the factors given above could have been the effective causes for the mysterious disappearance of ancient Mayan civilization.

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    • Tom Marshal profile image
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      Tom Marshal 2 years ago from India

      Aladdins Cave,

      Once again thank you for reading my hub and commenting on it. Kindly recommend these hubs to your friends also.

    • Aladdins Cave profile image

      Aladdins Cave 2 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Very interesting Hub

      Thank you, gave you thumbs up as well

      Cheers from DOWNUNDER

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Just like the other ancient civilizations, eventually its demise took place given as you've pointed out a number of factors. I wish we can ascertain this end clearly but nothing in history can be tied up neatly.