Coffee Hour: Development and Disintegration of Maya Political Systems in Response to Climate Change

Friday, February 14, 2014 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
3:30 p.m. Refreshments are offered in the E. Willard Miller seminar room, 319 Walker Building 4:00 p.m. The lecture begins in the John J. Cahir Auditorium, 112 Walker Building

Development and Disintegration of Maya Political Systems

in Response to Climate Change

About the talk

The role of climate change in the development and the demise of Classic Maya civilization remains controversial. Kennett will present the results of an on-going interdisciplinary study designed to examine the role of climate change (specifically drought) in the development and disintegration of Classic Maya political systems (AD 300-1000). This includes a precisely dated subannual climate record for the past 2000 years from a cave located centrally in the region (Yok Balum Cave, Belize). From a comparison of this record with historical events compiled from well-dated stone monuments he will propose that anomalously high rainfall favored unprecedented population expansion and the proliferation of political centers between AD 440 and 660. This was followed by a drying trend between AD 660 and 1000 that triggered the balkanization of polities, increased warfare, and the asynchronous disintegration of Maya polities. This was followed by widespread population collapse in the context of an extended drought between AD 1020 and 1100.

Suggested reading

• Correlating the Ancient Maya and Modern European Calendars with High-Precision AMS 14C Dating PDF

• Archeological and environmental lessons for the Anthropocene from the Classic Maya collapse PDF

About the speaker

Doug KennettDouglas J. Kennett (B.A. 1990; M.A. 1994; Ph.D, 1998; University of California, Santa Barbara)  is a Professor of Environmental Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology at Penn State University.  He has held faculty positions at California State University Long Beach (1998-2001) and the University of Oregon (2001-2011). He is the author of The Island Chumash (University of California Press, 2005) and co-editor, with Bruce Winterhalder, of the book Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture (University of California Press, 2006). He is also the co-editor, with Atholl Anderson, of  Taking the High Ground: the Archaeology of Rapa, a fortified island in remote East Polynesia (Australia National University Press, 2012). His current interests include the study of human sociopolitical dynamics under changing environmental conditions, human impacts on ancient environments, and behavioral response to abrupt climate change in the past. (Angela Rogers)