Monumental stepped pyramids rose out of the steaming jungle.

It was inhospitable terrain, yet over three thousand years you created a mighty empire with vast, bustling settlements. Your culture was sophisticated. You had a sense of occasion second to none; elaborate rituals marked by incense and chocolate and blood.

For you the night sky was a window onto all possible worlds. You tracked the stars, making precise calendars which told when to make war, when to sacrifice to your gods. For you nothing was permanent; what was right in one season might not come to pass in another; understanding the past was the key to the future.

What went wrong? You thought of everything. Your complex agricultural systems fed ten million people: raised fields and terracing, forest gardens and managed fallows; rainwater stored and released by hydraulic systems.

You did not see the precarious balance you had created: when the rains failed your systems failed. You had stripped the forest and reduced humidity. In that prolonged drought, what little rain fell did not fall on you. Without reserves most of your people starved. The few remaining cities fought each other until the jungle reclaimed your civilisation and the memory of all you had done.

Mayan Civilisation

Alex Harvie

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