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Classic Maya fight to their finish.

Classic Maya fight to their finish

Excavations at two Maya sites in the Guatemalan lowlands last summer uncovered evidence of widespread warfare in the region from around A.D. 700 until the end of the Maya's "golden era" or Classic period, around A.D. 900, reports Arthur A. Demarest of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Anthropologists have long debated the nature of Maya warfare and its role in the collapse of the Classic-era cities, which first sprang up around A.D. 250. Some researchers contend Maya rulers engaged in limited, ritualized battles that did not stimulate the Classic decline (SN:6/7/86, p.360). But the new investigations, which represent the first of six seasons of field work in Guatemala's Peten province, suggest warfare played a critical role in undermining the Classic culture, Demarest maintains.

At Dos Pilas, where previous excavations have ben conducted, Demarest and his co-workers uncovered the remains of defensive walls apparently constructed in haste toward the end of the 8th century A.D. In the early 8th century, Dos Pilas became a large Maya kingdom through conquest of nearby city-states. But low platforms used for housing and pieces of plain pottery found behind the Dos Pilas walls indicate the site was "a small, inpoverished village during the late Classic period, besieged from without," Demarest says.

And as-yet-unnamed Classic Maya site was located on a piece of land jutting into the Peterbatun River, a major lowland waterway. On the small peninsula, Demarest's team unearthed three concentric trenches dug into bedrock, which allowed nearby river water to flow in and create moats. Each trench is about 25 feet deep and at least 300 feet long. A stone wall stands behind the trenches. "These are among the most massive defensive fortifications in Maya [history]," Demarest says.

In future work in the Guatemalan lowlands, the team will seek to discover the reasons for intensified warfare preceding the Classic-era crash, he says. These may include rapid population growth, food shortages spurred by slash-and-burn agriculture, and trade competition between city-states.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 2, 1989
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