Key point 1
Historical opinion is changing all the time often in light of new evidence, literally. The latest technology using lasers has enabled archaeologists to discover up to 60,000 hidden Mayan buildings in present-day Guatemala. Unfortunately they can’t be dated. Most of these are houses, palaces and defensive fortifications. This means that the Mayan civilization may have been 3 or 4 times larger than previously thought, at least twice the size of population of Medieval England.
Key point 2
The Maya was one of the world’s greatest ancient civilisations, and its apparently sudden decline in the 9th century AD has long been a subject for historical debate.
Now scientists have found evidence which appears to confirm the theory that the large-scale abandonment of Maya city states was precipitated by a massive drought which swept across Mexico in about 900 AD.
A team of international researchers has used sediment samples from a local lake on the Yucatan Peninsula to calculate historical rainfall and humidity levels. They have found that rainfall fell by up to 70% at the time when Maya cities were abandoned, lending considerable weight to the drought hypothesis.
Other theories that have been put forward for the Maya decline include disease epidemics, over-population, foreign invasion and the collapse of trade routes.
Key point 3
Mayan cities were NOT built on a grid system but incorporated large open spaces both within the townscape and outside
Key point 4
Although there is still some uncertainty about the nature of human sacrifice it is now believed that this was not commonplace. Where it happened it may have involved just prisoners-of-war.
Key point 5
The Maya were highly regarded not just for their sophisticated system of writing using glyphs-which were as flexible as our alphabet but also for their ability to farm a hostile terrain. Remember that they never grazed animals and grew mainly maize which , unlike wheat, they could cultivate alongside trees using terraces.
Key point 6
The Mayan empire did not decline suddenly and everywhere but the decline was more transitional. In some areas communities were deserted but in other the process of decline took several hundred years. Coastal towns continued to trade.
Key point 7
Most historians, given the choice would have preferred to have lived in Mayan lands than in Saxon England at the time.