This famed dive site may finally explain what happened to the Mayans

The Belize Blue Hole has long held the imagination of divers, just as the Mayan culture has long held the imagination of the world. A widespread civilization, there were Mayan cities all across Latin America, including present-day Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. The Mayans are well-known for their advanced architecture and astronomy, and of course for the calendar that some people believed predicted the end of the world in 2012. Ironically, the Mayan culture seemed unable to predict its own demise. The civilization declined rapidly around 900 A.D.

Archaeologists have long speculated on what caused this rapid decline. The Mayan culture completely disappeared, forgotten for centuries until archaeologists unearthed their temples. Now we may be a step closer to finding out what happened. The clue comes, of all places, from the world’s oceans.

The Belize Blue Hole

Close to the area where the Mayan culture thrived lies the famous Great Blue Hole, off the coast of Belize.  This famed sinkhole formed when an underwater cave collapsed. It’s almost completely circular in shape, some 980 feet across and more than 400 feet deep. It is famous for its clear, blue color, and of course for the extreme shift in depth from the surrounding ocean floor to the vertical drop of more than 400 feet. Belize’s Blue Hole first gained recognition when Jacques-Yves Cousteau featured it in his TV programs, and today it’s a famed dive spot.

But, as it turns out, the Belize Blue Hole can do more than just attract divers. Andre Droxler, a professor of earth science at Rice University in Houston, Texas, recently led an archaeological expedition here, wherein his team collected and analyzed core samples from both inside the blue hole and a number of nearby lagoons. Their findings, which show changes to the mineral compositions in the cores from around 800 to 1,000 A.D. indicate a severe drought, which may have caused the Mayan decline.

The Mayan Connection

Normally, rainfall causes rivers to drive large amounts of fresh water — and with it, mineral sediments — into the ocean near the Blue Hole. Mineral sediments will obviously vary depending on the amount of rainfall; more minerals appear in times of heavy rainfall, less in times of drought.

The recent core samples show a severe drop in titanium around the time of the Mayan decline. This is one of the minerals usually deposited during rainy seasons or as an effect of storms. The reduced rainfall would have affected water supply and the land’s fertility. This is likely to have caused unrest in the population. This might help explain why the civilization’s building activity, which had been so prominent until then, suddenly slowed down or stopped altogether.

The hypothesis that severe drought brought down the Mayan culture has gathered more and more traction in recent years. A number of other studies also point to this as the explanation. But the core-sample project in Belize’s Blue Hole is unique. It’s the first of its kind to accurately depict the rainfall in the region more than 1,000 years ago. Once again, the ocean may very well contain the key to unlocking some of the Earth’s greatest mysteries.

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