The Maya of Central America are thought to have been a kinder, gentler civilization, especially compared to the Aztecs of Mexico. At the peak of Mayan culture some 1,500 years ago, warfare seemed ritualistic, designed to extort ransom for captive royalty or to subjugate rival dynasties, with limited impact on the surrounding population. Only later, archeologists thought, did increasing drought and climate change lead to total warfare -- cities and dynasties were wiped off the map in so-called termination events -- and the collapse of the lowland Maya civilization around 1,000 A.D. (or C.E., current era). New evidence unearthed by National Science Foundation-funded researchers call all this into question, suggesting that the Maya engaged in scorched-earth military campaigns -- a strategy that aims to destroy anything of use, including cropland -- even at the height of their civilization, a time of prosperity and artistic sophistication. The finding also indicates that this increase in warfare, possibly associated with climate change and resource scarcity, was not the cause of the disintegration of the lowland Maya civilization.
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