Often, when people think about the ancient Maya, they may picture some sudden, cataclysmic event that upended daily life and led to end of this past, advanced civilization. Glover notes that this could not be further from the truth. Maya peoples are alive and well today in the Yucatan, Belize, and Guatemala. While the ‘collapse’ of Maya kingdoms between 800 and 900 CE often gets blown out of proportion in popular media, that does not mean that were not changes in settlements over time.
“I think it’s a story, not of a sudden or mass exodus, but a shift over time,” Glover explained, “and to understand these shifts we must understand the complex interplay of environmental and cultural factors, which is what our research is revealing.”
The research also highlights the specific lifestyles and adaptive strategies needed to live in a dynamic coastal environment and how this fostered a shared identity amongst coastal Maya communities.
“Our research gives us some idea of the shared challenges that coastal peoples faced – rising sea-levels, diminished freshwater, changing economic and political systems – and they probably leaned on one another, Glover said. “In some ways, I think it might have been easier to hop in your canoe and paddle down the coast to seek help than it was to walk over land.”
“The past, just like the present is not static, and these people were constantly having to make decisions. Sometimes those decisions meant sticking it out, and sometimes they meant re-establishing their lives right down the coast. This new article is a great summation of what we have learned to date. But, you know, there’s always more to be done, and we certainly have plans to continue.” Glover said.
Later this year, the team will start a new project with Dr. Tim Murtha, a colleague at University of Florida, to conduct a light detection and ranging (LIDAR) survey. They will collect detailed elevation data that can reveal the distribution of ancient Maya settlements like house mounds or pyramids. While not focused on the coast, the project will help the team better understand the relationship between inland and coastal communities.