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The Decline of the Maya
The Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula were one of history’s most advanced civilizations. Their cities and pyramids were architectural marvels, and they had mathematics advanced enough to develop the concept of zero centuries before it came into common usage, independently of other mathematically advanced cultures (such as the Sumerians). They were also consummate astronomers, having devised an accurate 365-day calendar, and perhaps most importantly, especially for historians, they devised a written language that was used to record their advancements. But for all that is known about the Maya, the precise cause of their demise remains a mystery.
The Preclassic period of Mayan civilization began around 1800 B.C., with some historians dating the era as far back as 2000 B.C., and lasted until 250 B.C. During this time, the Mayans formed the basis for their culture through the development of agriculture, the formation of cities, and the construction of their first stone pyramids. While there is no conclusive evidence as to where the Mayan people came from, archeological findings support them having borrowed in these beginning stages, and later refined, their calendar, religion, and numbering system from the earlier Olmec civilization; their earliest pyramids were also most likely built upon Olmec precursors that had been fashioned out of mud. The first Mayan cities were established in the Preclassic period, around 750 B.C., with the lost city of Mirador believed to have been the largest. It is estimated to have held between 100,000 and 250,000 people, its size dwarfing even that of the largest Classic period city, Tikal.
Beginning around 250 B.C. and lasting until approximately 900 A.D. is what historians consider the Classic period, when various city-states were established. There were some 40 cities with populations ranging from 5,000 to 90,000 people each, connected by a complex trade system that formed the economic engine of Mayan society. Conservative estimates of the population of Tikal have 10,000 people in the main city and 50,000 people living in the outskirts. However, approximations range to as high as 90,000 people living within the city center at its height and 200,000 more living in the greater metropolitan area.
However, between 800 and 950 A.D., Mayan civilization began a steep decline, and many cities were abandoned. Mayans began migrating further north, into present-day Mexico. The last remaining Mayan city was defeated in 1697 by the Spanish, who had only arrived in the Americas in 1492.
The most popular theory ascribes the decline to fighting from within. In fact, there is some evidence of internecine warfare, but there exist other possible catalysts as well. ◙ (A) Another theory is that the overdependence on just a few crops inevitably depleted the soil of its nutrients. ◙ (B) The effects of soil overuse would have been compounded by the fact that farmers had to strip the forest of trees to make room for their ever growing fields of corn. ◙ (C) These unsustainable farming practices may have led to famine and conflict. ◙ (D) Overpopulation is another possible culprit, as Mayan cities were exceptionally dense, with some estimates as high as 2,600 people per square mile. In comparison, Los Angeles County in the year 2000 had a population density of only 2,400 people per square mile. Given the limits of Mayan technology, this would not have been sustainable for long periods. The most credible theory, though, has only recently been posited.
The Yucatan rain forests only receive rainfall once per year, and the Maya planned around this seasonality of water. Scientists have recently discovered, though, that the 9th century experienced a sustained drought in the Yucatan, with the initial evidence based on the examination of tree rings in Sweden, ironically. Severe cold spells in northern Europe happen to be closely correlated with drought in the Yucatan. Further evidence has been collected from mud deep beneath the Blue Hole of Belize, from which core samples show solid proof of drought at the time. Recent theorists have suggested that up to 90% of the Mayan population died as a result, with the remainder fleeing northward. Most historians, though, believe that while the drought was the precipitating factor, the other circumstances all played a hand in the collapse of the once great Maya.
According to paragraph 1, which of the following is NOT mentioned as an example of the advanced nature of the Maya?
Why does the author use the phrase “especially for historians” in paragraph 1?
According to paragraph 2, what can be inferred about the preclassic period of Mayan civilization?
According to paragraph 2, what was the likely relationship between the Olmec and Mayan civilizations?
In paragraph 3, why does the author mention the “complex trade system”?
According to paragraph 5, what did untenable farming practices ultimately result in?
According to paragraph 6, what can be understood about the recently discovered evidence of a drought?
Which of the sentences below best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence in paragraph 6? Incorrect choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.
Look at the four squares [◙] that indicate where the following sentence can be added to the passage.
Rain forest earth is already not very nutrient dense.
Where would the sentence best fit?
Select the appropriate phrases from the answer choices below and match them to the Mayan periods to which they relate. TWO of the answer choices will not be used. This question is worth THREE points
The Spanish arrived
Tikal was the largest city
Cities formally traded with each other
Building pyramids began
Cities battled each other
The Mayan calendar was created
The MayCities held over 250,000 people eachan calendar was created