Conquistadors with their violent raids and European diseases have long been blamed for decimating ancient populations; however, unearthed evidence may provide other clues. For the Maya, the answer to their disappearance may be a result of self-elimination; since a successful population is only as sustainable as the land around those people is viable enough to support life.
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Mayans relied heavily on their available natural resources. As a result, nearby forests suffered from severe deforestation and soil erosion. Not only used for building frames, Mayans used trees to aid in farming, create exterior stuccos and fire pottery kilns. As the forests died, so did their contents. With nowhere to thrive, meats taken from the forest soon vanished. Building hundreds of cities, the Maya built upon fertile farm lands which further reduced their ability to provide themselves with food.
Anthropologists have learned the Maya may have also self-extinguished themselves by overpopulation. With too many mouths to feed and a lack of proper food, unearthed Mayan skeletons have showed signs of malnutrition. This could be attributed to lack of food supply from any one of these causes: insufficient food production due to limited farm lands, lack of food due to drought, or malnutrition due to captivity; as the Maya were a people who engaged in war.
Not limited to a single village, from 800 to 900 A.D., many well-fortified Mayan cities were abandoned. Relocating to Belize, Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula area, the remaining Maya sought higher grounds and continue to exist there today. Leaving little existence of their once vast territory, by the time the 16th Century occurred, once occupied southern Mayan territory was restored to its natural state. The Conquistadors exploring this area found no existence of a living population. Once unearthed during later discoveries, this formerly thriving period in Mayan history has been classified as the Classic Stone period.