Maya civilization thrived thousands of years ago in present-day Central America. Anthropologists and archaeologists thought Maya culture originated in the northern reaches of what is now Guatemala about 600 BCE, and migrated north to the Yucatan Peninsula beginning around 700 CE.
Throughout the film Quest for the Lost Maya, a team of anthropologists led by Dr. George Bey discovers the Maya may have been in the Yucatan as far back as 500 BCE. This new evidence indicates the Maya of the Yucatan had a very complex social structure, distinctive religious practices, and unique technological innovations that made civilization possible in the harsh jungle.
Archaeologists have long puzzled over the collapse of Mayan civilization. What led to the massive depopulation of major Mayan cities in the 900s? Scientists have considered war and political factors, but this segment of Quest for the Lost Maya suggests another explanation.
In a University of Florida lab, Dr. Mark Brenner evaluates sediment cores which have produced new data that suggests climate—specifically, severe drought—played a key role in the decline of Maya civilization. This segment of Quest for the Lost Maya outlines how scientists use snail shells and sediment layers from the bottom of a lake to create a picture of climate conditions at various periods in the ancient past.
Although climate was likely a major factor of the Mayan collapse, it's not the only one. Civilizations carefully balance a host of factors—political, environmental, military, and cultural. Troubles in one area often lead to problems in other areas.
What do different bands of color in the core sediment samples represent?
How does the gypsum found in the core sediment samples form? What does this formation indicate?
How did scientists determine the age of the gypsum? With what did these dates coincide?
How have snail shells helped climatologists determine aspects of the ancient environment of the Stairway site?
How many serious droughts were recorded in the sediment core, and how long did they last? What were their impacts?
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry anthropology Noun
science of the origin, development, and culture of human beings.
Encyclopedic Entry: anthropology archaeologist Noun
person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.
person who studies the theory and application of atoms and molecules, and their relationships and interactions.
complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.
Encyclopedic Entry: civilization climate Noun
all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.
Encyclopedic Entry: climate climatologist Noun
person who studies long-term patterns in weather.
data Plural Noun
(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.
destruction or removal of forests and their undergrowth.
study of tree rings and how they can identify and date weather events and changes in the atmosphere.
period of greatly reduced precipitation.
Encyclopedic Entry: drought erosion Noun
act in which earth is worn away, often by water, wind, or ice.
Encyclopedic Entry: erosion evidence Noun
data that can be measured, observed, examined, and analyzed to support a conclusion.
person who studies the physical formations of the Earth.
ice core Noun
sample of ice taken to demonstrate changes in climate over many years.
atom with an unbalanced number of neutrons in its nucleus, giving it a different atomic weight than other atoms of the same element.
tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.
body of water surrounded by land.
Encyclopedic Entry: lake landscape Noun
the geographic features of a region.
Encyclopedic Entry: landscape Maya Noun
people and culture native to southeastern Mexico and Central America.
migration route Noun
path followed by birds or other animals that migrate regularly.
powdery material produced by plants, each grain of which contains a male gamete capable of fertilizing a female ovule.
sea level Noun
base level for measuring elevations. Sea level is determined by measurements taken over a 19-year cycle.
Encyclopedic Entry: sea level sediment Noun
solid material transported and deposited by water, ice, and wind.
Encyclopedic Entry: sediment speleothem Noun
rock or mineral formations, such as stalactites and stalagmites, created in a cave environment. Also called a cave formation.
rock formed by mineral-rich water dripping from the roof of a cave. The water drips, but the mineral remains like an icicle.
mineral deposit formed on a cave floor, usually by water dripping from above.
urban area Noun
developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.
Encyclopedic Entry: urban area volcanic eruption Noun
activity that includes a discharge of gas, ash, or lava from a volcano.