The Mayan civilization is famous for its collapse, but could something similar happen in the near future? At least one expert on the region says yes.
American anthropologist and archeologist Arthur Andrew Demarest has studied Mesopotamia for nearly four decades. And while pundits ponder the collapse of the two-party system, Demarest insists Americans should think bigger.
“Almost all civilizations collapse, especially complex ones,” he told Bloomberg in an “Odd Lots” podcast two weeks after the election. “The broadest pattern is that the strengths of civilization are the things that bring it down,” he added.
Demarest, having studied 18 collapses, encourages critics to look at what went wrong in societies, but also believes it may be too late.
“I can’t really help you with being optimistic,” he joked, before sharing his account about the collapse of the Maya and similarities with our own culture.
“High civilizations aren’t supposed to exist in tropical soil and their successful secret was to adapt their cities to the tropical forests and that means it had to be decentralized,” he said. “Many things can go wrong as you start to get to successful… it starts to put a strain on the environment.”
This was around 1000 BCE.
“The whole world of Mezoamerica began to switch to something [that resembles our economy]. The Mayan area was not very competitive and eventually their trade routes were taken over by various peoples and moved to the coast,” the anthropologist explained.
The main issue they faced was holding together a civilization that’s been dispersed.
“The answer you see in Angkor Wat and with the Mayans is this divine kingship system with these huge rituals,” Demarest explained.
“And the king’s power isn’t just political, it’s largely religious,” he continued. “They’re divine kings… the king is also a general.”
Reflecting on the rise of Donald Trump and both parties’ battle against the Washington elite, Demarest warns of counter trends, good and bad.
“The leaders do more of what they do [or] they intensify it and it’s almost always counterproductive. You have to build more temples, they have to be more impressive, bigger rituals, make the gods happy, but also make the people happy,” he explained. “You’re taking more and more things out of the environment and bringing things down.”