What happened in Tikal? The reason that the Mayans abandoned their great city

The Mayan culture It can boast of being one of the most attractive for researchers. How more than 2,000 years ago a people was able to build such incredible structures, organize a society so effectively and, at the same time, mysteriously disappear, leaving everything abandoned without further ado, causes hundreds of researchers to try to find out more about the history of this civilization. Large and impressive cities were virtually abandoned overnight: now, researchers believe they have discovered the reason why they left behind Tikal.

Tikal, in present-day Guatemala, is one of the most impressive Mayan cities of all time, where it is located one of the largest archaeological sites of this civilization. Built during the first years of the 4th century B.C., its great heyday took place where the classical period, that is, between 200 and 900 A.D. However, in the middle of the 9th century, not only did it lose some of its splendor, it became a ghost town: its more than 100,000 inhabitants abandoned it, remaining at the mercy of the jungle, which ended up covering it and anchoring it in abandonment.

Historically, many theories have been developed to try to explain what it is that led to the collapse of the Mayan civilization, being Tikal one of the basic research points. It was never understood how such a developed city was abandoned, the most plausible theories being those related to problems with crops and water flow. Until now, it was believed that a concatenation of droughts was responsible for this flight, something that forced the inhabitants to look for other localities in order to survive. Now a study offers a very reasonable explanation.

An investigation carried out by a team of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati (United States), and which has been published in the prestigious magazine 'Nature', ensures that the collapse was caused, involuntarily, by the Mayans themselves. Scientists dug in ten different aquifers the ancient city of Tikal, in which they found the presence of two cyanobacteria: Planktothrix and Microcystis. In the first place, they would end up making the water turn greenish; when it accumulated excessively, both its smell and taste would be unpleasant, but it was not enough to understand what happened.

It only took a few more days to find an answer: the Mayans intoxicated their water supplies until make them toxic with the pigments they used to decorate their buildings. As it was known, the Mayans were not only expert builders, but they worked hard to embellish their buildings and monuments to keep their gods happy. To carry out this task, they used various pigments extracted from nature, where cinnabar was the main. This red mineral is composed of a 15% sulfur and 85% mercury, being even toxic to the simple touch. The Mayans knew it and took the necessary precautions not to come into contact with it, but they did not take something into account: The rain.

Experts believe that the rains that took place in the area were, little by little, dragging these pigments and, naturally, they ended up flowing into the aquifers that were in charge of storing the water reserves. This situation caused the aquifers to begin to fill with mercury, which led to the water no longer being potable. However, it is very possible that the Mayans did not know it and that keep drinking and watering their crops with them, which would generate numerous diseases and deaths that would surely be attributed to the fury of the gods.

It would be with the passing of the years when the depleted population of Tikal, after not finding a solution to the health problems they were having, decided that it was time to change the scene. In the middle of the 9th century, it is very likely that local people simply believed that the city was under a curse that caused the death of its people, both the common people and the top leaders. In the absence of solutions, the population of Tikal decided to leave the city and start a new life in another area, without being aware that they ended up poisoning their aquifers themselves.