The mystery story of the Maya slowly reveals new twists

The research paints a picture of the classic Maya civilization as one big connected society from antiquity, and the "collapse" looks more like a series of local catastrophes, rather than a single apocalyptic event (apologies to Mel Gibson for the Apocalypto reference.) "The public needs to understand that the so-called Maya collapse was not an overnight affair that resulted in the total disappearance of the Maya people. The collapse took place over a period of more than 200 years," says Bey. "The result was the breakdown of elite culture and the abandonment of their cities. However, millions of Maya continued to live in Mesoamerica, especially in the northern Maya lowland, as they do so today."

Kiuic's abandonment sometime in the 10th Century is also part of the collapse story. Bey and his colleagues have found large grinding stones turned on their sides at the site, a regular practice for farmers planning to return to them — but more ominously, a large number of spear points as well.

They plan to keep on digging into the mystery. "I believe there is an even earlier occupation than what we have defined thus far," Bey says, perhaps dating back before 1000 B.C. "I may be optimistic, but I think now that we are looking for it, it is only a matter of time."

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