FALL OF THE ANCIENT MAYA: Solving the MysteryDAVID WEBSTER Book Number: 87769 Product format: Hardback
One of the big mysteries in archaeology is the collapse of the Mayan civilisation on the Yucatan peninsula around 800 AD. In this readable and scholarly account, archaeologist David Webster describes the Mayan people, outlines numerous theories and comes up with his own explanation, which coming from a working archaeologist is a "bottom-up" account, based on material remains on the ground, rather than a theoretical one. What was the nature of Mayan culture? The vast, stepped pyramidal edifices made a huge appeal to the popular imagination when they were first rediscovered in the mid-19th century, but the "priest-peasant" model of a peaceful people whose inscriptions dealt with chronology and astronomy rather than conquest and warfare has now been discredited, following advances in our ability to decipher the inscriptions. Discoveries like the "long count" of the Mayan calendar give a clue to their intellectual life but the organisation of the Mayan élites is still largely a closed book. Food producers probably constituted 80-90% of the population, and towards the end of the 7th century the fertility of the land started to decline owing to factors such as overpopulation and erosion. Collapse happened gradually over the next two centuries as the people migrated and the élites exerted a stronger grip on the remaining workers. The Puuc area, noted for its monumental architecture and one of the three Classic Powers, finally collapsed in the 10th century. Royal courts ceased to function, monumental building stopped, the landscape became deserted and warfare increased. Examination of household evidence such as ceramics conclusively points to a gradual decline rather than a single catastrophe but, writing in 2002, the author was still unable to explain why the collapse was so complete. 368pp, maps and diagrams, black and white photos.
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