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  • Cited by 13
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: March 2010

10 - Social Disruption and the Maya Civilization of Mesoamerica: A Study of Health and Economy of the Last Thousand Years



The civilization of the Maya of Mesoamerica has experienced two major disruptions within the last thousand years. The effects of these disruptions were studied on skeletal samples and the patterns of morbidity and mortality reflected these times of trouble, although the time of the Classic collapse was the most stressful. The Maya have endured to the present day and are still facing many health problems in adjusting to the modern world. Comparison of some measures on living individuals that are equivalent to those on skeletal samples indicates that the Maya still suffer from quality-of-life problems. A perspective on Maya history using health indicators reveals that in spite of quite significant burdens of morbidity and probable high mortality at many points in their history, the Maya were able to build, intensify, and maintain a distinctive civilization.

The Maya are a well-known and distinct group of Native Americans that are presently concentrated in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Although they are one of the largest such indigenous groups surviving since the European discovery and settlement of the New World, they are probably best known because of one of the most famous collapses of a civilization revealed by archaeology. The present day extent of the Maya is less than it was during the Late Classic Period (circa ad 700–1000), when there was a dense population in the lowlands of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras.