Climate change contributed to the decline of the Maya people, according to an article in the latest issue of Science magazine based on studies by a team of archaeologists investigating rainfall levels in southern Belize.

Researchers were able to compile climate data in the region inhabited by the Mayas, whose wealth and power reached their peak between 300 and 1000 A.D., that show how political systems developed and disintegrated parallel to climate change.

"(W)e propose that anomalously high rainfall favored unprecedented population expansion and the proliferation of political centers between 440 and 660 C.E. (Common Era, an alternative to the A.D. formulation)," the authors say.

"This was followed by a drying trend between 660 and 1000 C.E. that triggered the balkanization of polities ... followed by population collapse in the context of an extended drought," the paper asserts.

The study makes use of the abundant political history carved in stone monuments of the region's principal Mayan cities, such as Tikal, Copan and Caracol, to line up against the analysis of rainfall patterns.

The worst drought occurred between the years 1020 and 1100 A.D., a time frame that coincides with the fall of the principal centers of Mayan civilization and the decline of their populations, according to the research.

Scientists studied samples gathered from stalagmites in the cave of Yok Balum, located just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the ancient city of Uxbenka in modern-day Belize. EFE