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Title:A Systems Simulation of the Classic Maya Collapse
Author(s):Lowe, John Wesley Guinn
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Anthropology, Archaeology
Abstract:This thesis represents an attempt to employ concepts and methodologies deriving from systems analysis to elucidate a particular culture-historical problem--the cause of the Classic Maya collapse. Toward that end I first establish the sequence of events in the Southern Maya Lowlands during the Late Classic period. This is accomplished primarily by utilizing dated inscriptions from Classic Maya sites, but is augmented by evidence from ceramic sequences, settlement surveys, and epigraphic analysis. A non-random collapse pattern in time and space is derived and then is used to evaluate a number of pre-existing explanations of the collapse.
First it is necessary to identify the system that collapsed. By appeal to ecological factors, the spatial organization of Maya sites, and by analogy with Ancient Mesopotamia and Classical Greece, it is argued that the Southern Maya Lowlands formed a system of local states, where the fundamental unit was the major ceremonial center and its immediate hinterland.
Making certain assumptions about the nature of Classic Maya society, in particular a linkage between elite managerial capacity and food production, it can be established mathematically that throughout the Late Classic, owing to internal contradictions and increased ecological stress within Maya society, the resilience of these local states steadily declined. The system as a whole became less and less stable until perhaps as early as 750 A.D. a critical mass of sites on the brink of disaster was reached. The result was a self-sustaining chain reaction of failures. Cataclysm was propagated by raiding and population movements and intensified by escalating external pressure. These factors also operated to preclude recovery.
Conceptually this dissertation is a tale of two thresholds. One, an impact threshold governed the stability of polities on the local level. The other, the diffusion collapse threshold determined the stability of the whole system of states. The model depicted appears to reproduce the pattern of the Classic Maya collapse in space and time rather accurately.
Issue Date:1980
Description:321 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8108589
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-14
Date Deposited:1980

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