Maya Civilization:
Origin, Development and Collapse



Mayan Civilization was developed in the New World—in America. Unlike the old world civilizations, which were established from 5000–1000 B.C., the Mayans emerged during the 2–3rd century A.D. Like the mystery of their (Mayan) beginning, their decline remains another mystery. 

Although the Mayan people never entirely disappeared—their descendants still live across Central America—dozens of core urban areas in the lowlands of the Yucatan peninsula, such as Tikal, went from bustling cities to abandoned ruins over the course of roughly a hundred years. 

However, in this writing, we will basically focus on the reasons for the decline of Mayan Civilization (Stromberg, 2012). But before we delve into that, we will give a short summary of Mayan Civilization.

Mayan Civilization: 

Around the 2-3 Century, in Guatamala, the inhabitants of that region developed a civilized way of life, which later termed as Mayan Civilization, and around 6-8 century AD, the civilization was in peak of its development. 

The Mayan, without taking help from any other civilized society, they developed many architectural monuments, ways of agriculture, artistic excellence on pottery, writing, mathematics, astronomy and many others. 

Unlike other scattered indigenous populations of Mesoamerica, the Maya were centered in one geographical block covering all of the Yucatan Peninsula and modern-day Guatemala; Belize and parts of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas and the western part of Honduras and El Salvador. 

The Maya lived in three separate sub-areas with distinct environmental and cultural differences: the northern Maya lowlands on the Yucatan Peninsula; the southern lowlands in the Petén district of northern Guatemala and adjacent portions of Mexico, Belize and western Honduras; and the southern Maya highlands, in the mountainous region of southern Guatemala (Editors, 2009). 

Though Classic Mayan Civilization commenced during 200 BC, but their inhabitance started in 1800 BC, and earlier Mayans were hunters, some developed agricultural tradition. 

As their agricultural sector developed gradually, they become scattered for both low and highland. Thus they created many small cities for their dwelling. 

The Classic Maya civilization grew to some 40 cities, including Tikal, Uaxactún, Copán, Bonampak, Dos Pilas, Calakmul, Palenque and Río Bec; each city held a population of between 5,000 and 50,000 people. 

At its peak, the Maya population may have reached 2,000,000. Excavations of Maya sites have unearthed plazas, palaces, temples and pyramids as well as courts for playing the famous maya ball game Ulama, all ritually and politically significant to Maya culture (Stromberg, 2012).

Mayans developed the “slash and burn” process to acquire more agricultural lands, and later they understood the concept of irrigation and terracing. The Maya were deeply religious, and worshiped various gods related to nature, including the gods of the sun, the moon, rain and corn. 

At the top of Maya society were the kings, or “kuhul ajaw” (holy lords), who claimed to be related to gods and followed a hereditary succession. They were thought to serve as mediators between the gods and people on earth, and performed the elaborate religious ceremonies and rituals so important to the Maya culture (Editors, 2009). 

Decline of Classical Maya Civilization : 

However, there were many reasons identified by archeological findings caused of collapse of Mayan civilization, namely: 

Foreign Invasion : 

After coming to the peak of the Mayan flourish, by 800 AD, major cities of the civilization were about to fall. This decline some scholars pointed out as relative decline, unlike Rome’s absolute decline. 

This decline emerged through left behind the cities of the ar eas by  inhabitants.  And by 800 CE, the process of disintegration had reached the Classic Maya heartland of southern Yucatán and northern Guatamala, whose deserted or destroyed centers reverted one by one to the bush (Keith, 2009).

When this departure happened, coincidentally, a militaristic society emerged on this vacuum. This malign behavior of a new militaristic society compelled the benign classic Mayan culture to be demolished. 

In Central México, many small city states launched, and they warred with one another for land, water, and tribute. So this non-Mayans invasion to Mayans city had continued from 800-900 CE.

Collapse of trade routes: From Yucatán and northern Guatemala to the central Mexican city of Teotihuacán was a great and essential trade route for Mayan people. 

Preceded by improved knowledge of the chronology of Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan was believed to have fallen during 700-750, forcing the “restructuring of economic relations throughout highland Mesoamerica and the Gulf Coast” (Keith, 2009).

Epidemic disease: 

Archaeologists believe that epidemic disease might help the sudden decline of Mayan civilization, and facilitate the depopulation process rapidly. 

According to Dunn (1968) and Shimkin (1973), infectious diseases spread by parasites are common in tropical rainforest regions, such as the Maya lowlands, and the Maya may have encountered endemic infections related to American trypanosomiasis, Ascaris, and some enteropathogens that cause acute diarrheal illness. 

Furthermore, some experts believe that the Maya could have created a “disturbed environment”, in which parasitic and pathogen-carrying insects often thirl collapse (Demarest, 2004).

Great drought: 

Almost all scholars pointed out climate change and the consequences of this change affected very much the collapsing Mayan civilization. Drought was everywhere at that time. 

As their dwelling was much depended on lowland waters, drought forced them to departure from their home to search for some favorable grounds to live. In The Great Maya Droughts, Richardson Gill gathered and analyzed an array of climatic, historical, hydrologic, tree ring, volcanic, geologic, and archeological research, and suggested that a prolonged series of droughts likely caused the Classic Maya collapse (Gill, 2000). 

Thus, among the reasons of declining, drought remains in the most prominent position.


Maya civilization of Latin American remain one of major events in American history. Without taking  any help from any civilised society, Mayan developed their civilization, which was advance in many  positions such as agriculture, architecture and arts. 

With the flow of time they inclined many small  states in their civilized world through their strong cultural hegemony. But, like their mysterious civic development, their collapsing was remain another mystery. Archeologist finds to answer such  question. 

But all are agreed that this civilization has much impact over the psychosocial building of  Central and Latin America.  



Demarest, A. (2004). Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization. Case Studies in Early Societies . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Editors, H. (2009, 10 29). Retrieved 08 15, 2023, from History:

Gill, R. (2000). The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life, and Death. New Mexico : University of Mexico Press.

Keith, H. (2009). The History of Latin America. New York : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company Boston.

Stromberg, J. (2012). Why Did the Mayan Civilization Collapse? A New Study Points to Deforestation and Climate Change. Retrieved from


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