Infotainment

Did the Mayans go extinct because of corn?

July 7, (Agencies) | Publish Date: 7/7/2019 12:08:52 PM IST

 Obsession with a corn-based diet among the Mayan's urban elites may have contributed to their downfall starting 1,300 years ago, new research suggests.

Previous research hints that the mysterious disappearance of the Mezoamerican culture in the 8th and 9th century AD may have been down to climate change. Now, experts have found that Mayan populations in more rural areas of Central and South America - who enjoyed a richer diet - fared better than those in cities.
It suggests that concentrating on growing one crop - known as a monoculture - meant the civilisation was less able to adapt its farming to periods of drought.
Scientists from Pennsylvania State University (PSU) analysed carbon and nitrogen isotopes found in preserved bone collagen to make the finding.
The results revealed that the youngest remains studied had higher levels of carbon isotopes from a group of plants that includes the Maya staple crop.
Corn is known in North, Central and South America as maize, due to the continent's Spanish colonial history and lasting impact on the language.
The concentration of carbon isotopes was highest among the remains of elite members of the Maya civilisation. Isotope levels among the remains of both elites and commoners from the Middle Preclassic period revealed a diverse diet.  Over time, however, a maize-based diet became more popular among elites. 
As the Maya population grew and social stratification intensified, a split in eating habits developed, during a period known as the Terminal Classic.
The remains of people living farther from the city center had lower levels of maize-derived carbon in their bones. People living in the city ate more maize, researchers found.
'Our results show a pattern of highly restricted stable nitrogen and carbon isotopes for elite individuals in the Late and Terminal Classic,' Claire Ebert, a paleontologist and geochemist at PSU, said in a written statement.
'This corresponds to a hyper-specialized maize-based diet that persisted through the final abandonment of the site.' 
(Tim Collins for Mailonline)

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