Maya Rituals Caused Ancient Decline in Big Game

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"Even as the ancient Maya lived in large cities over thousands of years, they never exploited game animals to extinction or even local decimation," she said.

"The large elite class probably did not act conservatively by recognizing the need to reduce demand for large game," she added.

"Instead they demanded more and more in an attempt to prove their status regardless of the worsening conditions. But this scenario is speculative."

Emery's study appeared recently in the Journal for Nature Conservation.

Lessons for Modern Conservation

Daniela Triadan, a Maya archaeologist at the University of Arizona, said the study "is an important contribution to the discussion about the so-called Maya collapse.

"The findings show that human-environment interactions are very complex and that simplistic overexploitation models do not provide the answers for the [Maya's later] abandonment of the southern lowlands [of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala]," Triadan said.

She said the study is also useful for modern conservation movements.

Triadan cited alarming rates of species disappearance in Guatemala's southern Petén region, a problem she said has worsened since a civil war in the country ended in 1996.

"Population in the area today is not nearly the same as it was during the Late Classic [period, A.D. 600-900]," she said.

"Thus studying how the ancient Maya more or less kept the ecological balance, despite massive deforestation and alterations of the landscape, may provide vital clues into how to manage these fragile environments today."

Others agreed Emery's study is important for understanding ancient Maya practices.

"It is landmark in that it demonstrates that animal bone remains, which many Maya archaeological projects continue to ignore, can provide very critical insight into the nature of ancient Maya environmental adaptation," said Lori E. Wright, a specialist in Maya bioarchaeology at Texas A&M University.

Anabal Ford, an archaeologist from the University of California and director of the MesoAmerican Research Center, praised the study.

"I think that this is a magnificent piece that combines original data with the analyses of existing data, some collected many decades ago," she said.

"The strength of the study is in both the breadth of sites and the time periods covered."

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