Researchers dig out clues in ancient human faeces that link to the collapse of Central American Mayans

Fareeha Arshad
Photo byPhoto by Marv Watson on Unsplash

In a recent study published in the ‘Quaternary Science Reviews’, researchers have uncovered a lot about the fallen Mayan civilisation by studying the remains of ancient human poop. The study observed that there were periods in history referred to as the dry or the wet periods when there was a shift in the population size observed. The researchers also found that an ancient city, the Itzan (present-day Guatemala), actually existed over 650 years earlier than as previously predicted by the scientists.

With this study, researchers believe there is a new way to look at the ancient historical evidence – the remains of human faeces that gives a much more detailed or possibly more precise picture of the ancient societies. Because the ancient Mayan architectures and related records are no longer available, researchers believe that the analysis of the faecal matter, that is, the organic remains of humans that may be preserved in other sources like buried within the soil beds, can serve as a source for further studying about other factors and elements associated with other ancient civilisations. Such organic molecules, like from faeces, remain in the surroundings for thousands of years and serve as promising tools for the detailed study of ancient history.

Among the various organic compounds, stanols have been shown to give constant yet accurate changes related to the lifestyle of living beings that existed long ago. They accurately indicate how people lived and how the population changed long ago. The researchers extracted stanol from an Itzan lake and studied the difference in the data achieved versus the ancient geological data related to climate and vegetation already available.

Although the scientists discovered some consistency with the already published data in the study, a few new findings were also observed. They concluded that the ancient civilisations, too, were affected by climate and population changes that may have led to their downfall. They also observed that there could have been a population spike around 1687 because of the Spanish attack on the Maya that could have led to the movement of the refugees, thereby causing changes in the faecal remains.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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