New Historian

Half-Millennium Long Drought Caused City's Abandonment

Dry Cracked Ground

<![CDATA[Cantona was a once-thriving Mesoamerican metropolis complete with fortifications and at its height, a population of 90,000 people. It was completely abandoned over 1,000 years ago, and for decades archaeologists have hotly debated the cause of the city's abandonment. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) has suggested that a massive drought caused the desertion of Cantona. Cantona's ruins are located just east of Mexico City, and the city had a pre-Columbian society whose origins predated the rise of the Aztecs. It was abandoned around 900 CE due to a 650-year period of frequent, heavy drought that began around 500 CE and lasted until 1150 CE. This was not an isolated or localised event, but part of broader era of hot and dry climate that plagued Mexico's highlands, beginning in 200 BCE and only coming to a close around 1300 CE. After the droughts subsided, the Aztec Empire rose to prominence. Cantona was located about 20 miles from Aljojuca, a closed lake basin. The proximity of the lake allowed the researchers to study the region's historic climate changes through element and sediment study. The researchers specifically focused on the relationship and variants between a variety of oxygen isotopes in the lake's waters and sediment base. The existence or nonexistence of these various isotopes and elements allowed the researchers to determine the region's history of precipitation. The analysis of the oxygen isotopes' ratio pointed to the existence of particularly dry summers during the aforementioned period of time. Analysis of other sedimentary compounds yielded the same results, thus reinforcing the theory that drought caused the city's abandonment. Tripti Bhattacharya, a UCB graduate student, stated: "the decline of Cantona occurred during this dry interval, and we conclude that climate change probably played a role, at least towards the end of the city's existence." Bhattacharya also added that interestingly, Cantona's population had initially grown during this time of drought, possibly due to the migration of people from other drought stricken areas who sought refuge in the fortified city. It is also possible that political turmoil drove Cantona's new migrants to leave their homelands. However, Cantona's growing population likely caused the already shrinking supplies to become even more scarce, thus aiding the city's abandonment. Roger Byrne, an associate professor of geography at UCB said in a statement: "In a sense the area became important because of the increased frequency of drought. But when the droughts continued on such a scale, the subsistence base for the whole area changed and people just had to leave. The city was abandoned." The study was published on January 26th 2015, in the journal "The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." Undoubtedly, further studies will be undertaken to either reinforce or rebuke this theory. For more information: Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons user: FlickReviewR]]>

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