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Mayan collapse mystery solved? Deforestation exacerbated a drought

Mayan collapse: One new study blames the collapse of the Mayan empire on deforestation combined with drought. Environmental and trade problems caused the Mayan collapse, says another new study.

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A Mayan statue stands in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Using climate model simulations, scientists say that drought played a key role int he collapse of the Mayan empire, but the Mayans appear to have exacerbated the problem by cutting down the jungle canopy to make way for cities and crops.

(AP Photo/Israel Leal)

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The city states of the ancient Mayan empire flourished in southern Mexico and northern Central America for about six centuries. Then, around A.D. 900 Mayan civilization disintegrated.

Two new studies examine the reasons for the collapse of the Mayan culture, finding the Mayans themselves contributed to the downfall of the empire. 

Scientists have found that drought played a key role, but the Mayans appear to have exacerbated the problem by cutting down the jungle canopy to make way for cities and crops, according to researchers who used climate-model simulations to see how much deforestation aggravated the drought.

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"We're not saying deforestation explains the entire drought, but it does explain a substantial portion of the overall drying that is thought to have occurred," said the study's lead author Benjamin Cook, a climate modeler at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a statement. [Dry and Dying: Images of Drought]

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