The rise and fall of population and agriculture in the central Maya lowlands: 300 BC to present

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

24 Scopus citations


The principle objective is to examine the relationships between population and agricultural food production change in the central Maya lowlands from 300 BC to the present by means of direct evidence. This is accomplished primarily by merging the rather detailed work on Maya agriculture with a recent attempt to reconstruct the population. The results are used to evaluate the various Malthusian-like explanations of the Maya collapse and the longer-term depopulation of the central lowlands. This exercise illuminates several factual and interpretive issues that question the validity of these explanations for the ancient Maya. First, the direct evidence suggests a broad correspondence between the patterns of population growth and the development of the spatial scales and types of agriculture. Second, the evidence is too ephemeral to support any conclusions linking Maya-induced environmental degradation to the collapse and depopulation. Third, the overall evidence suggests that the ancient Maya of the central lowlands were not unique among their peers in terms of population, food or environmental problems and solutions. Finally, explanations of the collapse of the Classic Maya do not account for the scale of the depopulation spiral that continues for one half century or more before the Spanish arrive to sustain that spiral into modern times. -from Author

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHunger in history
EditorsL.F. Newman
PublisherBasil Blackwell
Number of pages34
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)


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