Increasing evidence supports the role of climate change in the disintegration of regional polities in the Maya lowlands at the end of the Classic Period (750–1000 CE). However, the demographic effects of drought remain largely unknown in the absence of Classic Period textual evidence indicating declines in agricultural productivity and population over this broad geographic area. To understand the relationship between climate change and demography, we compare historic records from the Colonial Period (1519–1821 CE) with a subannually resolved climate record for the region. We propose that multiyear droughts across the lowlands resulted in crop failure and severe famines that correlate with intervals of high mortality and migration within two extended dry intervals during the eighteenth century. Changes in population during the Colonial Period support Malthusian models of demography that may be used to conceptualize population dynamics at the end of the Classic Period.
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