The Fall of the Ancient Maya

The Fall of the Ancient Maya

Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse

Book - 2002
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Publisher: New York : Thames & Hudson, c2002
ISBN: 9780500051139
Branch Call Number: 972.8101 Webs
Characteristics: 368 p., [16] p. of plates : ill


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Mar 21, 2019

Reading Diamond and Tainter on the subject of collapse, I was moved to search out this book to get a more complete understanding of one of the cultures mentioned by many of those who write about civilizations that seem to have collapsed. Webster has put much of his life into studying this culture and his book is a very good history. Regardless of one of the jacket reviews' claim of "solution," Webster feels only that we are on the path to an answer. Although he respects Tainter's work, he has a slight disagreement as to cultural artifacts as epiphenomena (see p. 75). An excellent book for anybody interested in the Maya.
Incidentally, one of the other books I borrowed is Flannery’s “The Future Eaters” through Mobius, hence no individual review. Although Flannery references Diamond’s work, this book was written well before “Collapse,” and has a different focus. His concept is described by using Australasia as a model. While Diamond looks at the last several millennia of human history, Flannery begins his story 120,000,000 years ago in Gondwanaland, spending the first third of the book discussing the flora and fauna of the landmasses that eventually became Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and Tasmania. He mentions other places, but spends most of his effort on these four, with a central focus on his homeland of Australia. He argues that the life evolved to fill niches dictated to a large extent by the El Nino Southern Oscillation, so that in addition to the often-cited evolution through competition, evolution in Australia was strongly affected by the highly variable climate and nutrient-poor land. He argues that these conditions allowed the marsupials to out-compete the placentals. He had to begin his story long ago to point out that Australasia started out with both types of mammals; it was not isolation that caused the marsupials to “win.”
In the next third or more of the book, Flannery describes what he believes happened when humans entered the finely balanced lands. He estimates that humans entered the first three named places at least 40,000 years ago, and perhaps as much as 60 to 100 thousand years ago. The Maori entered New Zealand much more recently. The title of the book comes from what he thinks occurred. There were many animals naïve to humans that were easy prey, and so the megafauna were largely eradicated. This has a devastating effect on the ecological balance of the country, and Flannery suggests that the Aboriginal people spent the next 40,000 years learning to live with the results. They had eaten their future and had to construct a new one. Each of the countries has its own history in this regard. In Chapter 14, he summarizes his coadaptation theory by stating that land shapes people in addition to people shaping land.
And then the Europeans came, with their own ideas about the country, destroying the balance established and maintained over millennia. Flannery describes the actions of the current wave of future eaters, giving some thought to what can be done to rebalance the nation. It takes no great effort to expand this theory globally. Maybe Malthus was on the right track.


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