The Mayan civilization, known for its sophisticated calendar system and pyramid construction, sprang up in 300 A.D. but seemed to collapse between 800 and 1000 A.D.
A study published in the Journal Science suggests the Maya civilization perished from the effects of extreme changes in climate.
Unusual rainfall patterns doomed the Maya people, says palaeoclimatologist Douglas Kennett of Pennsylvania State University, who along with colleagues studied a 2,000-year-old stalagmite from a cave in southern Belize to reconstruct rainfall records from the geographic center of the Mayan territory.
The researchers determined historical rainfall patterns in the Mayan lowlands by measuring oxygen isotopes incorporated into the stalagmite from rainwater that seeped into the cave from above, Nature reported.
Unusually high rainfall allowed a population boom between 440 and 660 A.D., but subsequent dry conditions between 660 and 1000 A.D. aligns with known periods of political instability in the Mayan civilization, Kennett theorizes.
The dry climate conditions, which may have included extended periods of drought, may have hastened the Maya collapse, the researchers say.