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A long period of dry climate, punctuated by three intense droughts, probably played a major role in the collapse of the Mayan civilisation more than 1000 years ago, according to a new study.

A group of Swiss and US researchers studied titanium levels — a reflection of the amount of rainfall each year — in sediment from the Cariaco Basin off northern Venezuela. They identified three drought periods, each lasting a decade or less, that occurred around AD 810, 860, and 910, which correspond to the three phases of Mayan collapse suggested by archaeological evidence.

Living in a seasonal desert and depending on an inconsistent rainfall cycle, the Maya developed a variety of reservoirs, canals, and other systems for collecting and storing rainwater. The three droughts may be what "pushed Mayan society over the edge", the researchers write in this week's Science.

Link to research paper in Science

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