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Ancient Maya civilization thrived in the tropics of Central America for more than a thousand years and produced some of the world's finest architecture and art. Then it mysteriously vanished, leaving a landscape of ruins smothered by forests. The Classic Maya collapse is one of the great puzzles of history, ranking alongside the Fall of Rome as an enigma that has intrigued scholars for generations. Drawing upon recent archaeological research and hieroglyphic decipherments, David Webster evaluates the theories and dispels the myths surrounding this contentious topic. Contrary to popular belief, not all Maya centers were abandoned, and Spanish explorers of the sixteenth century encountered still-vigorous Maya polities. Yet the Maya of the southern lowlands did suffer a calamitous decline beginning in the late eighth century a.d. Monuments were no longer carved, royal buildings ceased to be constructed or maintained, and whole populations dwindled or simply moved away. What brought about this collapse? Webster paints a picture of a brittle Late Classic world. Ambitious kings, scheming nobles, and courtly extravagance are set against a backdrop of ever-more destructive wars and an exploding population that led to unsustainable stress on cultivatable land. Without the means to intensify agricultural production, the system simply failed. Professor Webster makes full use of his own and his colleagues' latest discoveries at sites such as Copán, Tikal, Dos Pilas, and Piedras Negras to reveal the subtle complexity and variety of the collapse across the Maya world. Enhanced by illuminating cross-cultural comparisons, and written in a personal, engaging style, this is the most satisfyingand convincing analysis yet produced of the downfall of the New World's greatest ancient civilization. 90 b/w illustrations.
Author Biography: David Webster is Professor of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and the author of several books on the Maya world.