From time to time, separate archaeological projects on different societies end up by suggesting common themes to events in the ancient world. Thus, two new studies point to parallels between the collapse of cities on opposite sides of the globe — the southern lowland Maya cities in Central America, and Angkor, the centre of the Khmer empire in what is now Cambodia. These parallels include the effects of climate change, which hurt both the Maya and the Khmer. By contrast, as a third report indicates, climate change seems to have benefited another ancient civilization, the Incas of South America.The same Nature issue also has articles on the genetic history of Indians -- a loaded issue, no doubt. For an abstract of the study, see here.
This reminds us that climate can change in either direction, and that in the past such change has variously helped or hurt human societies. But human overexploitation of environmental resources never helps. As Lentz and Hockaday note, "Tikal's inhabitants became trapped in a positive feedback loop wherein increasing demands on a shrinking resource base ultimately exceeded the carrying capacity of their immediate environs. The ecological lessons learned from the Late Classic Maya, with their meteoric population increase accompanied by environmental overstretch, serve as a distant mirror for our own cultural trajectory." Amen.
I'll try to avoid subscription only links in the future -- my apologies to readers.