The apparent collapse of the Maya culture in Yucatan peninsula of present-day Mexico, Guatemala and Belize around AD 1000 continues to puzzle and intrigue geoscientists and archaeologists. Was the abrupt cessation of major building projects in many places, and the apparent abandonment of some large cities, a result of politic conflict, reduced food production due to soil erosion, or drought?
Working with colleagues at the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan (Mexico), GFZ Potsdam (Germany), UCL and the British Geological Society (BGS), we are using a combination of lake monitoring and sediment core analysis to produce seasonally-resolved records of past climate change from lakes which produce laminated sediments. These sediments offer the chance to produce records of climate change with seasonal resolution, allowing the level of climatic stress suffered by past local populations to be assessed in a more nuanced way.
These records can be combined with other data from the region to provide better understanding of the sensitivity of natural systems to climatic change and the frequency and intensity of droughts in the past. Comparison with modern meteorological records will help us to assess how far the climate has changed, specifically in relation to drought and whether the pressures in this region of increasing water stress are likely to become worse in the future. Field work involves academic staff, PhD and undergraduate students from The University of Nottingham and UADY.