High resolution stalagmite climate record from the Yucatán Peninsula spanning the Maya terminal classic period

TitleHigh resolution stalagmite climate record from the Yucatán Peninsula spanning the Maya terminal classic period
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsMedina-Elizalde, Martín, Burns Stephen J., Lea David W., Asmerom Yemane, von Gunten Lucien, Polyak Victor, Vuille Mathias, and Karmalkar A.
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume298
Pagination255 - 262
Date Published09/2010
ISSN0012821X
Keywordsdrought, Maya, rainfall, stable isotopes, stalagmite, Yucatan
Abstract

The decline of the Classic Maya civilization was complex and geographically variable, and occurred over a   150-year interval, known as the Terminal Classic Period (TCP, C.E. 800–950). Paleoclimate studies based on lake sediments from the Yucatán Peninsula lowlands suggested that drought prevailed during the TCP and was likely an important factor in the disintegration of the Classic Maya civilization. The lacustrine evidence for decades of severe drought in the Yucatán Peninsula, however, does not readily explain the long 150-year socio-political decline of the Classic Maya civilization. Here we present a new, absolute-dated, high-resolution stalagmite δ18O record from the northwest Yucatán Peninsula that provides a much more detailed picture of climate variability during the last 1500 years. Direct calibration between stalagmite δ18O and rainfall amount offers the first quantitative estimation of rainfall variability during the Terminal Classic Period. Our results show that eight severe droughts, lasting from 3 to 18 years, occurred during major depopulation events of Classic Maya city-states. During these droughts, rainfall was reduced by 52% to 36%. The number and short duration of the dry intervals help explain why the TCP collapse of the Mayan civilization occurred over 150 years.

DOI10.1016/j.epsl.2010.08.016