What Happened to the Maya?

Quck answer

The Maya civilization, known for its advanced culture and achievements in science, art, and architecture, experienced a mysterious decline. Scholars believe that a combination of factors led to the collapse of the Maya civilization. These factors include environmental degradation, such as deforestation and drought, which affected agriculture and disrupted the Maya’s way of life. Additionally, political unrest, warfare, and social inequality weakened the society. The collapse of trade networks and the abandonment of cities further contributed to their downfall. While the exact reasons for the decline remain uncertain, it is clear that a combination of environmental, social, and political factors played a significant role in the disappearance of the Maya civilization.

Can you think of any famous ancient societies? The Greeks and Romans might come to mind. You might also consider the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. If you enjoy studying ancient civilizations, you’re in luck! Today’s Wonder of the Day is about another remarkable civilization. Who are we referring to? The ancient Maya, of course!

The Maya Empire once existed in what is now known as Guatemala. It expanded northward over time, reaching as far as modern-day Mexico. The Maya were highly skilled in various areas, including agriculture, language, mathematics, art, architecture, and astronomy.

The Maya culture reached its peak during the sixth century C.E. Interestingly, just a few hundred years later, it disappeared. By around 900 C.E., most of their large stone cities had been abandoned. What happened to this great empire?

The decline of the Maya Empire has intrigued scholars for centuries. Some new theories may explain what occurred. Some experts now believe that the Maya may have contributed to their own downfall.

For many centuries, the Maya thrived in southern Mexico and Central America. Their population grew significantly. At its height, the Maya population density was comparable to present-day Los Angeles. The empire had over 2,000 people per square mile.

How did the Maya support such a large and expanding population? They were skilled farmers who excelled in cultivating corn. To have enough food, the Maya had to clear large areas of forest, creating more fields. They also used trees for construction materials and as fuel for limestone kilns. These kilns produced the lime plaster used in many of their temples.

Scientists believe that deforestation played a role in the collapse of the Maya Empire. It resulted in climate change, leading to higher temperatures and reduced rainfall. These factors combined to create a severe drought that lasted for nearly a century.

Together with unsustainable farming practices, this became a disaster. The Maya no longer had the resources they needed to survive. They abandoned their large cities and people dispersed in search of necessary resources.

Today, the descendants of the Maya still live in Mexico and Central America. Many have also migrated to other parts of the world. Scientists continue to study this ancient culture and learn valuable lessons about sustainable farming. These lessons can help prevent large-scale disasters in the future.

Do you enjoy learning about ancient civilizations? Take some time today to read about the Incas or the Kushites. What other lessons can we learn from these civilizations?

Try It Out

Are you ready to learn more about the Maya? Find a friend or family member to help you explore the following activities:

Learning from the Mayan People

Has the modern society taken lessons from the Mayan people? Some argue that it hasn’t, as deforestation continues to pose a significant threat to the world’s forests. To find out how you can contribute, take a look at “10 Easy Ways Kids Can Help Save Rainforests”. Afterwards, create a poster that educates others on how they can protect the rainforests of the world. Hang your poster in a place where it will be seen by many.

If you ever visit Mexico, you will come across remnants of the Mayan civilization in the form of ruins. Explore the Tulum Ruins online to delve deeper into this region and the rich social and archaeological history it holds. Would you be interested in visiting Tulum one day? Discuss your thoughts with a friend or family member.

The ancient Maya were skilled observers of the sky, which enabled them to develop accurate and detailed calendars. Learn more about their achievements by checking out “The Calendar System” online. Do you think you could have created a calendar system like the Mayans? How is it similar to or different from the calendar you use today? Summarize your findings for a friend or family member.

Recommended Sources

  • http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/06oct_maya/ (accessed on 12th September 2020)
  • http://www.history.com/topics/maya (accessed on 12th September 2020)


1. What happened to the Maya civilization?

The Maya civilization, which thrived in Mesoamerica from around 2000 BC to 1500 AD, experienced a decline and eventual collapse. While there is no single explanation for the fall of the Maya, scholars believe that a combination of factors contributed to their decline. These include environmental degradation, warfare, political instability, and social unrest. The Maya cities were heavily dependent on agriculture, and deforestation and overpopulation led to soil erosion and loss of fertility, causing food shortages. This, combined with frequent conflicts between city-states and internal power struggles, weakened the civilization and eventually led to its abandonment.

2. Did the Maya civilization completely disappear?

No, the Maya civilization did not completely disappear. While the Classic Maya civilization did collapse, many Maya people survived and continued to live in the region. The decline of the Maya city-states led to the dispersal of the population into smaller settlements. These communities maintained their cultural traditions and language, and some even thrived after the collapse of the centralized political system. Today, millions of Maya descendants still live in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, preserving their rich cultural heritage.

3. Why is the collapse of the Maya civilization significant?

The collapse of the Maya civilization is significant because it provides valuable insights into the complex factors that can lead to the downfall of a highly advanced society. The Maya were known for their sophisticated architecture, mathematics, astronomy, and writing system. Their collapse challenges the notion that technological advancements alone guarantee the longevity of a civilization. It highlights the importance of sustainable practices, stable governance, and social cohesion for the long-term survival of a society. The study of the Maya collapse also serves as a cautionary tale for modern civilizations facing similar challenges today.

4. What evidence supports the theories about the decline of the Maya?

Several lines of evidence support the theories about the decline of the Maya civilization. Archaeological studies have revealed abandoned cities, evidence of warfare, and signs of environmental degradation such as deforestation and soil erosion. Written records, such as the Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions, also provide insights into the political instability and conflicts that plagued the civilization. Additionally, studies of the region’s climate history have shown periods of prolonged drought, which likely exacerbated the food shortages and social unrest. The combination of archaeological, historical, and environmental evidence helps researchers piece together the story of what happened to the Maya.

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