Classic Period collapse of the Central Maya Lowlands: Insights about human-environment relationships for sustainability

Billie Turner, Jeremy A. Sabloff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

190 Scopus citations


The ninth century collapse and abandonment of the Central Maya Lowlands in the Yucatán peninsular region were the result of complex human-environment interactions. Large-scale Maya landscape alterations and demands placed on resources and ecosystem services generated high-stress environmental conditions that were amplified by increasing climatic aridity. Coincident with this stress, the flow of commerce shifted from land transit across the peninsula to sea-borne transit around it. These changing socioeconomic and environmental conditions generated increasing societal conflicts, diminished control by the Maya elite, and led to decisions to move elsewhere in the peninsular region rather than incur the high costs of maintaining the human-environment systems in place. After abandonment, the environment of the Central Maya Lowlands largely recovered, although altered from its state before Maya occupation; the population never recovered. This history and the spatial and temporal variability in the pattern of collapse and abandonment throughout the Maya lowlands support the case for different conditions, opportunities, and constraints in the prevailing human-environment systems and the decisions to confront them. The Maya case lends insights for the use of paleo- and historical analogs to inform contemporary global environmental change and sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13908-13914
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 28 2012


  • Complex systems
  • Land management
  • Mesoamerica

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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