Human biology in the Classic Maya collapse: Evidence from paleopathology and paleodiet Academic Article uri icon


  • We review evidence from human biology - paleopathological and isotopic paleodietary studies on ancient Maya skeletons - to assess the validity of ecological models of the Classic Maya collapse, in which elevated disease and deteriorating diet are commonly assumed. To be upheld, the health arguments of ecological models require that the Maya disease burden (1) was greater than that for many other societies and (2) increased over the span of occupation. The dietary argument requires (1) consistent change in diet from Preclassic and Early Classic Periods to the Terminal Classic and (2) increasing social divergence in diet. A correlation between diet and disease is necessary to link these arguments. Neither pathology nor isotopic data consistently support these criteria. Instead, it appears that local environmental and political factors created diversity in both disease burden and diet. In view of the human biological data, we are skeptical of ecological models as generalized explanations for the abandonment of Classic Maya sites in the southern lowlands. 1996 Plenum Publishing Corporation.

published proceedings

  • Journal of World Prehistory

author list (cited authors)

  • Wright, L. E., & White, C. D.

citation count

  • 91

complete list of authors

  • Wright, Lori E||White, Christine D

publication date

  • January 1996