A network of interdisciplinary scholars studying past climate change
A new study in this week’s Science (see also the news article here, and the lengthier analysis on HistoricalClimatology.com) uses U-Th dating on a stalagmite in Belize to offer the most convincing evidence yet that the conflict and settlement abandonment of the lowlands Maya Terminal Classic Period (~800-900AD) took place against a backdrop of severe recurring drought. While past studies of lake sediments pointed to a similar conclusion, this speleothem research offers the most local, precisely dated, and high-resolution information to date. As in similar studies in other parts of the world, the oxygen isotope data recovered won’t be a perfect representation of regional precipitation; but in this case the overlap of the finds with other proxies and, in the case of the 16th-century droughts, with historical records is highly suggestive. This story has also picked up some coverage in the media as another cautionary tale for contemporary climate change.