HOUSTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Recent mineral testing in the Great Blue Hole, a massive underwater cave in Belize, suggests a lengthy drought lead to the collapse of the Mayans.
From 300 to 700 CE, the Mayan civilization dominated the Yucatan peninsula. But after flourishing for four centuries -- boasting a fully developed writing system, as well as innovations in art, architecture, mathematics and science -- the Mesoamerican civilization devolved into chaos and dramatically dissipated.
Modern historians, anthropologists and archaeologists have long speculated about what exactly precipitated the Mayan's ancient decline. But now, minerals measured in Belize's so-called Blue Hole -- a massive underwater cave, the entrance of which looks like a perfect blue circle -- suggest the Yucatan peninsula suffered an extreme drought between 800 and 900 CE.
In the wake of this climatological stressor, the Mayans relocated northward. But the research showed that another severe drought struck, further decimating what was left of the ancient Mayans.
"When you have major droughts, you start to get famines and unrest," Andre Droxler, an Earth scientist at Rice University and author of the new study on Belize's Great Blue Hole, told Live Science.
The new evidence suggests ancient droughts likely exacerbated deforestation trends on the Yucatan peninsula, as the Mayans cleared more and more land for farming.
Like a funnel trap, blue holes trap neatly settled layers of sediment -- offering a well-organized record of a region's geologic and climatological past.
"It's like a big bucket. It's a sediment trap," explained Droxler.
The new revelations expand on a study that was first published in 2012 in the journal Science.