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Collapse: Why do civilizations fall?
Collapse: Why do civilizations fall?The Maya

The Maya
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The ancient Maya once occupied a vast geographic area in Central and South America. Their civilization extended to parts of what is now Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, and most of Guatemala and Belize. Copan was once a thriving center of Maya civilization. From the third to the ninth century, Maya civilization produced awe-inspiring temples and pyramids, highly accurate calendars, mathematics and hieroglyphic writing, and a complex social and political order. Looking at the impressive remains of ancient Maya civilization, it's hard to imagine how such a society could collapse.

Looking for clues at Copán

Clues to this collapse can be found at Copán, a Maya site in western Honduras. Copán was once a Classic Maya royal center, the largest site in the southeastern part of the Maya area. Covering about 29 acres, it was built on the banks of the Copán River on an artificial terrace made of close to a million cubic feet of dirt. Over time, people spread out from the central core and built homes in outlying areas that had formerly been used for crops. Copán's nobles built smaller, rival complexes on sites that were increasingly further from the core.

In spite of its wealth, power, and size, Copán collapsed. No monuments seem to have been produced after A.D. 822. Does this mean that the collapse was sudden? Or is it possible that the Why did Copan collapse? Search for clues in this archaeological activity. society collapsed more gradually? To explore why Copán collapsed, try an archaeological activity and discover what scientists recently found when they examined the site.

What really happens when a society collapses? Can a society do anything to prevent a collapse? Find out more in "Understanding Collapse."

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