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Decline in seasonal predictability potentially destabilized Classic Maya societies

Braun, Tobias; Breitenbach, Sebastian F.M.; Skiba, Vanessa; Lechleitner, Franziska A.; Ray, Erin E.; Baldini, Lisa M.; Polyak, Victor J.; Baldini, James U.L.; Kennett, Douglas J.; Prufer, Keith M.; Marwan, Norbert

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Tobias Braun

Sebastian F.M. Breitenbach

Vanessa Skiba

Franziska A. Lechleitner

Erin E. Ray

Victor J. Polyak

Douglas J. Kennett

Keith M. Prufer

Norbert Marwan


Classic Maya populations living in peri-urban states were highly dependent on seasonally distributed rainfall for reliable surplus crop yields. Despite intense study of the potential impact of decadal to centennial-scale climatic changes on the demise of Classic Maya sociopolitical institutions (750-950 CE), its direct importance remains debated. We provide a detailed analysis of a precisely dated speleothem record from Yok Balum cave, Belize, that reflects local hydroclimatic changes at seasonal scale over the past 1600 years. We find that the initial disintegration of Maya sociopolitical institutions and population decline occurred in the context of a pronounced decrease in the predictability of seasonal rainfall and severe drought between 700 and 800 CE. The failure of Classic Maya societies to successfully adapt to volatile seasonal rainfall dynamics likely contributed to gradual but widespread processes of sociopolitical disintegration. We propose that the complex abandonment of Classic Maya population centres was not solely driven by protracted drought but also aggravated by year-to-year decreases in rainfall predictability, potentially caused by a regional reduction in coherent Intertropical Convergence Zone-driven rainfall.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 15, 2023
Online Publication Date Mar 17, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date May 3, 2023
Publicly Available Date May 3, 2023
Journal Nature Communications
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 1
Article Number 82
Public URL


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Copyright Statement
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