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.

  1. What do different bands of color in the core sediment samples represent?

  2. How does the gypsum found in the core sediment samples form? What does this formation indicate?

  3. How did scientists determine the age of the gypsum? With what did these dates coincide?

  4. How have snail shells helped climatologists determine aspects of the ancient environment of the Stairway site?

  5. How many serious droughts were recorded in the sediment core, and how long did they last? What were their impacts?

Noun

science of the origin, development, and culture of human beings.

archaeologist
Noun

person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.

chemist
Noun

person who studies the theory and application of atoms and molecules, and their relationships and interactions.

Noun

complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.

Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

climatologist
Noun

person who studies long-term patterns in weather.

data
Plural Noun

(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.

Noun

destruction or removal of forests and their undergrowth.

dendrochronology
Noun

study of tree rings and how they can identify and date weather events and changes in the atmosphere.

Noun

period of greatly reduced precipitation.

Noun

act in which earth is worn away, often by water, wind, or ice.

evidence
Noun

data that can be measured, observed, examined, and analyzed to support a conclusion.

geologist
Noun

person who studies the physical formations of the Earth.

ice core
Noun

sample of ice taken to demonstrate changes in climate over many years.

isotope
Noun

atom with an unbalanced number of neutrons in its nucleus, giving it a different atomic weight than other atoms of the same element.

jungle
Noun

tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

Noun

body of water surrounded by land.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

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.

pollen
Noun

powdery material produced by plants, each grain of which contains a male gamete capable of fertilizing a female ovule.

Noun

base level for measuring elevations. Sea level is determined by measurements taken over a 19-year cycle.

Noun

solid material transported and deposited by water, ice, and wind.

speleothem
Noun

rock or mineral formations, such as stalactites and stalagmites, created in a cave environment. Also called a cave formation.

stalactite
Noun

rock formed by mineral-rich water dripping from the roof of a cave. The water drips, but the mineral remains like an icicle.

stalagmite
Noun

mineral deposit formed on a cave floor, usually by water dripping from above.

Noun

developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

volcanic eruption
Noun

activity that includes a discharge of gas, ash, or lava from a volcano.

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