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Posted on Monday, November 10 - 2008

Apocalypto fans might be forgiven for thinking the fabled collapse of the ancient Maya, the retreat of a civilization from pyramids and ceremonial centers across Central America from 800 to 1000 A.D., involved all sorts of cataclysmic events, war, famine and devastation. Jared Diamond"s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed detailed how environmental disasters might be to blame, a popular scholarly explanation for the Maya collapse. "These models suggest that as ecosystems were destroyed by mismanagement or were transformed by globalclimatic shifts, the depletion of agricultural and wild foods eventually contributed to the failure of the Maya sociopolitical system," writes environmental archaeologist Kitty Emery of the Florida Museum of Natural History in the current Human Ecology journal.

But in that case, she asks in her study, what do the archaeological remains of what the Maya ate tell us about the collapse? To find out, Emery looked to the precious archaeological resources offering the keys to the past. "We looked mostly at garbage pits," Emery says, 460 of them, left over from former centers of the Petexbatun region of Guatemala, "right in the heart of the central lowlands" wherethe Maya lived. Petexbatun (Peh-tesh-BAH-toon) is best known for the abandoned pyramid centers of Dos Pilas and Cancuen investigated by a group led by Vanderbilt University"s Arthur Demarest for more than a decade. Sorting through trash heaps in the region, Emery and colleagues have collected the bones, shells and scraps thrown away by the Maya who once lived near these sites.

View: Full Article | Source: USA Today

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