Maya Mystery Solved in Belize?
A journey through the past is one of Belize’s greatest adventures.
Here in Belize we’re reminded of the ancient Maya on a daily basis. How could you not be? With the remnants of that magnificent civilisation spread throughout the country in the form of Ancient Temples at Xunantunich, royal residences at Cahal Pech and even huge city-states such as the awe-inspiring Caracol, which had a population larger than today’s Belize City, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this highly advanced ancient civilisation once thrived all around us.
Even Chaa Creek, now known for its tranquility and pristine natural surrounds, was once a bustling agricultural and trade centre supporting a large population of farmers, hunters, traders, artisans and growing families.
Today, most of that civilisation, supporting a population at times in the millions between 1800 BC and up to Spanish conquest in the 1500s is gone, with cities, temples and suburban areas still hidden beneath dense jungle canopy and just a relatively few areas excavated for us to marvel at today.
Much of the recorded evidence of the Maya’s incredible achievements were destroyed by the Conquistadors, but we know that they were among the ancient world’s greatest astronomers, mathematicians and doctors, independently creating a written language, making paper, and coming up with the concept of zero, allowing them to make calculations and celestial predictions that continue to astound us today.
How and why, you may ask yourself, did such a rich, scientifically advanced society just suddenly cease to exist?
It’s a question that has vexed researchers for years, with legions of archaeologists, anthropologists, Mayanists and other researchers proposing theories and arguing among themselves as they strive for a definitive answer.
Well, according to the Huffington Post, Time magazine and other sources, the question may finally have been put to rest once and for all – and the answer was found at one of Belize’s most well known travel and dive destinations:
Belize’s Great Blue Hole
A group of researchers from Rice and Louisiana State Universities working in the area believe they now have the answer. After analysing sediment samples from that beautiful, massive sinkhole popularised by Jacques Cousteau and located along Belize’s Great Barrier Reef, they’ve concluded that a hundred year drought put an end to this flourishing society.
Studying variations in in colour, grain size, and layer thickness at the Blue Hole and from the Belize Central Shelf Lagoon, they’re been able to accurately track rainfall levels and weather activity back during the time of the great decline of the Maya empire, which occurred around 900 AD. The new evidence suggests that there was a hundred year drought between 800 and 900 AD.
They also also found that in the two centuries leading up to A.D. 1000, there were only one or two hurricanes every two decades as opposed to the usual five or six.
The area suffered a major, long lasting drought that the Maya were never able to recover from.
Their research also concluded that the Maya city of Chichen Itza, now a popular tourist destination in Mexico and another former thriving metropolis, was another victim of drought – this time between 1000 and 1100 A.D. when it declined and fell.
From what we know of the Maya civilisation in Belize, population density and a series of alliances and wars made for an increasingly fragile situation, one that could not sustain such an environmental upheaval.
And now, living in the heartland of the Maya, we can only marvel at what they left behind, and wonder, “What if?”. At the rate their scientists, mathematicians and other elite members of society were progressing, who knows what Belize would look like today if the Maya continued to thrive?
Fortunately there are still many remnants of this rich, enigmatic civilisation to explore and study, and many more things still waiting to be discovered in Belize’s vast tracts of pristine rainforest, caves and other unspoiled areas. To be able to wander though ancient cities and temples is just one of the many things that makes Belize so unique.
And of course, with the Maya still making up some 12% of Belize’s population, they culture lives on, especially in the traditional villages in Southern Belize.
So while the demise of such a once great civilisation is sad, we at least are beginning to understand how and why it happened, and hopefully there are lessons we can still learn from today.
And, of course, we can still marvel at and enjoy the many things this vibrant civilisation left scattered throughout Belize.
If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, a trip to the Heartland of the Maya would be a great addition to the list. The stunning scenery, excellent weather and many other activities only add to the adventure. We can promise you’ll be amazed…