- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
Despite what much of Russia seems to believe, the ancient Mayans most likely did not believe the world would end next week. But of course, the world as they knew ended more than 1,000 years ago. A paper published in Science last month by Penn State Anthropologist Douglas Kennett and others suspects an earlier period of climate change may have been the reason:
The role of climate change in the development and demise of Classic Maya civilization (300 to 1000 C.E.) remains controversial because of the absence of well-dated climate and archaeological sequences. We present a precisely dated subannual climate record for the past 2000 years from Yok Balum Cave, Belize. From comparison of this record with historical events compiled from well-dated stone monuments, we propose that anomalously high rainfall favored unprecedented population expansion and the proliferation of political centers between 440 and 660 C.E. This was followed by a drying trend between 660 and 1000 C.E. that triggered the balkanization of polities, increased warfare, and the asynchronous disintegration of polities, followed by population collapse in the context of an extended drought between 1020 and 1100 C.E.
Just how bad did things get during this long dry period?
Historical texts on stone monuments were dedicated in at least 39 centers from 750 to 775 C.E., with rulers commissioning monu-ments at several large centers at unprecedentedrates. These texts point to a dynamic and unstable geopolitical landscape centered on status rivalry, war, and strategic alliances (28). A precipitous drop in the number of texts at key centers (such as Tikal) between 775 and 800 C.E. was the precursor to a 50% drop in the number of centers with text-dated monuments between 800 and 825 C.E., which is evidence for widespread failure of these political systems. Increasing interpolity warfare (Fig. 2A) is most evident in the historical record between 780 and 800 C.E. Political power became decentralized as the institution of divine kingship collapsed between 780 and 900 C.E.
Another recent item on Smithsonian Magazine‘s site, suggests that an unusually warm and wet period in the early 1200 facilitated Genghis Khan’s expansion across Eurasia.
We might like to think that our own institutions are a bit less vulnerable to the elements than these civilizations, but then again — the climate we may be in for will likely be much more unusual.
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |