Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The fall of the Mayan civilisation

Deep in the inhospitable rainforest, your glittering Mayan cities reached high above the trees, magnificent stepped pyramids surrounded by vast and bustling settlements.

Your culture evolved over three thousand years. Your sense of occasion was second to none, elaborate rituals marked by incense and chocolate and blood.

Your night sky was a window onto all possible worlds. You tracked the stars making precise calendars which told when to make war, when to sacrifice to your gods. They showed nothing was permanent; what was right in one season might not come to pass in another; understanding the past was the key to the future.

What went wrong? You thought of everything. Your complex agricultural systems fed ten million. Raised fields and terracing, forest gardens and managed fallows; rainwater stored and released by hydraulic systems.

You did not see the precarious balance you had created. When the rains failed your systems would fail. You had stripped the forest and reduced humidity. In that prolonged drought what little rain fell did not fall on you. Without reserves most of your people starved. Your few remaining cities fought each other until the jungle reclaimed the magnificent Maya cities and the memory of all you had done.