The ancient maya

Sustainability and collapse?

Authored by: B. L. Turner

Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138685796
eBook ISBN: 9781315543017
Adobe ISBN:


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Arguably no civilization collapse has received more attention, either in the public or scholarly literature, than that of the Classic Period lowland Maya. The “mystery” of this collapse is amplified by the massive depopulation of the Classic Period heartlands, creating a rather unique occupational history. Why? Holding places constant, large populations within them typically surge and retract in size over the millennia. 1 Few large-scale depopulations have failed to recover on such time scales. 2 This occupational history surrounding the Maya collapse, make the heartland demise a post-child case for unsustainable occupation. 3 The various evidence and arguments surrounding this collapse and depopulation are complex, including the role of climate and economic change. Full consideration of these issues casts doubt on simple population “overshoot” theses. The role of high stress, human–environment conditions as a factor in the Maya case grows increasingly strong, however. 4

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