- from The Maya
Maya civilization thrived for many centuries. But then, from about A.D. 800 to 900, nearly all Maya cities in the southern lowlands were abandoned.
Many theories try to explain why this happened. It might have been conquering armies of Mexicans or changes in the climate. It could have been earthquakes, epidemics, or economic failure. Maybe society broke down, there were too many people, or the people were starving. The masses may have rebelled. Or it might have been all these factors. A good guess is that both outside pressures and inside tensions led to the fall of the Maya.
The southern lowlands were nearly deserted. But Maya splendor lived on in the Yucatán peninsula. When Spanish explorers got there in the early sixteenth century, they found cities full of people. They saw highly decorated palaces and temples raised on stepped pyramids. They found paved stone roads and busy marketplaces. They met leaders wearing jade and gold jewelry. These leaders also wore intricate headdresses, jaguar-skin skirts, and bright feathered capes. The Spanish were also met by warriors with bows, arrows, and clubs.
For years, the Spanish had been searching for the legendary El Dorado. They thought they’d find great riches there. The cities of the Maya could have been it. But the Spanish wanted to convert everyone to their religion. That desire led them to destroy the most brilliant civilization on the continent.