It’s widely believed that the Maya civilization, located primarily in Central America and the Yucatán Peninsula, collapsed somewhere between 800 and 1000 AD after having thrived in the area since 1800 BC.
But because upward of seven million Mayan people are still living today, it’s not entirely correct to say that their civilization had entirely vanished all those years ago, explains Lisa Lucero, professor of anthropology and medieval studies at the University of Illinois, in an email to Live Science.
“It was the Maya political system that collapsed, not society,” she says.
This may have been due to their past leadership system, which saw local leaders for smaller states. These states, centered around their own city, rose and fell at different time periods throughout the existence of the entire empire for varying reasons.
Political problems may have stemmed from the rulers often linking their powers to deities. This meant that if the people lost faith in their rulers, they also lost faith in the deities, as detailed by Justine Shaw, an anthropology professor at the College of the Redwoods.
A large slew of environmental problems would’ve been the root of the turmoil that cause unrest in the people. These include terrible droughts, deforestation, and war and disease from European conquests in Central America.
Droughts also resulted in agriculture and water storage systems being disrupted. Resources were spent on warfare, and people were growing discontent.
Lucero explains that most of the kings’ power was retained due to their wealth of crops and access to clean drinking water.
When the drought came, their power took a hit.
Although the rise and fall of regions kept the entire civilization going for as long as it did, things reached a point where areas lost too many occupants. Eventually, Nojpeten, the last Maya state, was conquered by the Spanish in 1697.
All this being said, it’s crucial to note that “classic Maya cities and states did collapse, and culture did transform, the Maya in no way disappeared,” describes Guy Middleton, a visiting fellow at the Newcastle University in the UK, to Live Science.
While recognizing their history, he continues, we should also “pay attention to the story, the state and status of the Maya descendent population in Mesoamerica now.”
This content was originally published here.