The Abandonment of Maya Cities and the Classic Maya Collapse

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Objective: To debate and consider a range of theories for why many Maya cities were abandoned around AD 900



Check students have the correct terminology. What do the following terms mean: End- change- decline- move- hiatus- collapse?  Explain to students that the Maya did not disappear or die out or that the civilisation declined after the Maya cities were abandoned (we know this because the Maya still live today!). As a comparison look at the English monarchy comparing the rule of Henry III v Elizabeth II. The monarchy/Maya hasn’t collapsed: its role has changed as a more centralised, democratic government evolved. In Guatemala it is the Spanish speaking people of the Guatemalan government that rule the whole country now, not just the Maya Kings ruling their own cities.

Main activities:

  • Start with asking students what they think: Why do you think millions of people would leave their city? (possible responses: pollution, better life, money, crime, family)
  • Introduce 4 theories:
    1. Overpopulation leading to deforestation
    2. Warfare
    3. Drought
    4. Hurricane (Extension/HA task)
  • Students to work in groups to research each theory and try to persuade the class that their theory is correct. This could take a variety of forms: speeches and a class vote, create an article for a popular history magazine, explain what would you suggest if you met Dr Diane Davies, a Maya archaeologist?


National Geographic documentary (4 mins), discussing the drought theory –
10-red flags blog written by Dr Diane Davies – see point 5 on the Maya “collapse” – click here


  • – Mixed ability groups OR
  • – Some theories are more challenging that others so organise groups by ability rather than mixed.

Curriculum Links

  • History
  • English (S and L)


2 Responses to "The Abandonment of Maya Cities and the Classic Maya Collapse"
  1. Anonymous says:

    Can u add another section on architecture

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