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Lessons from the Mayas



The great Maya civilization of southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala reached its golden age around A.D. 250. The civilization flourished for more than 600 years, producing impressive architecture, painting, and pottery, and making advancements in mathematics and astronomy. Giant metropolises, like Tikal, Piedras Negras, and Uaxact¨n, were built and vast areas of forest were cleared. Then, inexplicably, the Maya civilization declined. The civilization fell 67 percent between 830-930 A.D. from a peak population density of 2,600 people per square mile in cities, and 520-1,300 people per square mile in rural areas. Archaeologists have spent decades trying to unlock the downfall of the civilization, and today many believe that the Mayas' exploitation of their environment may have played a major role. As they cut their forests, soil erosion destroyed their agriculture. They hunted their game, until it was too scarce to support the rapidly increasing population. The Mayas reached a point when they could no longer feed their population and the civilization declined. Reduced food availability would result in migration away from urban centers and possibly a collapse in civil order.

Today, almost 1,100 years later, we are facing many of the same problems as the Mayas: forest loss, soil erosion, overconsumption, declining freshwater supplies, and overpopulation. It's to be hoped that our civilization can learn from the downfall of the Mayas and work to develop a more sustainable society.

Suggested reading
  • The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey Of Richard Evans Schultes by Andrew Weil, Chris Murray, and Wade Davis
  • Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures by Wade Davis
  • Last Place on Earth by Mike Fay and Michael Nichols
  • One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest by Wade Davis by Wade Davis



  • Continued: People of the Rainforest [an error occurred while processing this directive]
    Forest People
    African Forest People
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    Forest People Overview
    Incas - Wade Davis
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    References
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    Indigenous Health
    Lessons from the Maya
    Forest people plant knowledge
    A Brief Social History of Borneo
    Forest people today
    Tri-country Amerindian summit
    Indigenous people estimates
    Varzea vs Terra settlements

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    Kids version of this section
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    Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2013

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