This jade once belonged to an ancient Maya king and is inscribed with 30 hieroglyphs. It was used during important religious ceremonies. Photo: G. Braswell / UC San Diego

By Léa Surugue
31 March 2017

(International Business Times) – With temperatures set to rise in the coming decades, investigating the issue of whether climate change can exacerbate conflict is becoming more and more relevant. Looking at how past civilisations fared in the face of changing climatic conditions offers interesting insights.

In a research now published in Quaternary Science Reviews, scientists have looked at the case study of one of the most important Mesoamerican civilisations, the Mayan civilisation.

An increase in warfare during the Classic Maya Period (250CE to 900 CE) has often been associated with the downfall of this great culture.

Scholars have proposed a number of potential drivers for the deadly conflicts, including rivalry, captive taking and resource acquisition, but also climatic and environmental factors such as agricultural shortfalls and drought.

To date however, these hypotheses have failed to convinced the entire Maya scholar community – and many researchers reject the idea that climate change had anything to do with Classic Maya conflicts.

"Some experts have made the case that droughts were driving Maya conflicts and were instrumental to the civilisation's collapse. However a substantial group of scientists believe that the situation is more complicated, and that many socio-political factors also have to be taken into account when we talk about Classic Maya warfare", senior author Mark Collard of the Human Evolutionary Studies Program and Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University (Canada) told IBTimes UK.

"However, I believe these views are not incompatible, longer term pattern of climate change can drive socio-political patterns, and it's interesting to study how this affects conflict", he added. [more]

Rising temperatures increased conflicts and deadly violence in the ancient Maya world


ABSTRACT: The impact of climate change on conflict is an important but controversial topic. One issue that needs to be resolved is whether or not climate change exacerbates conflict over the long term. With this in mind, we investigated the relationship between climate change and conflict among Classic Maya polities over a period of several hundred years (363–888 CE). We compiled a list of conflicts recorded on dated monuments, and then located published temperature and rainfall records for the region. Subsequently, we used a recently developed time-series method to investigate the impact of the climatic variables on the frequency of conflict while controlling for trends in monument number. We found that there was a substantial increase in conflict in the approximately 500 years covered by the dataset. This increase could not be explained by change in the amount of rainfall. In contrast, the increase was strongly associated with an increase in summer temperature. These finding have implications not only for Classic Maya history but also for the debate about the likely effects of contemporary climate change.

Increasing temperature exacerbated Classic Maya conflict over the long term

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