The decline of the Maya civilization began some 1,100 year ago when millions of Indians working on the contruction of tall pyramidal temples and palaces learned that their kings weren't gods, Spanish anthropologist Andres Ciudad told EFE.
The collapse of this culture with its brilliant mathematicians, astronomers and engineers, came when monarchs stopped being immortal in the eyes of their subjects, said Ciudad, who is deputy dean of the Faculty of Geography and History at Madrid's Universidad Complutense.
The inhabitants of Mayan lands, which extended through much of what is now Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Honduras and Mexico, at some point understood there was no sense in working themselves to death building pharaonic edifices and temples destined for the burial of kings who had no "heavenly privileges."
That is one of the conclusions drawn by the team of archaeologists led by Ciudad in the town of Machaquila, 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Tikal in Guatemala, the city most representative of the Mayan world that was named by its founders "the city of voices."
The study, which weakens theories that attribute the death of this civilization to tribal warfare or prolonged drought, has also led to confirmation that the Mayas did not build an empire as such, but rather forged a series of decentralized states in which a noble caste governed together with the kings.
The collapse of this civilization, known for perfecting a calendar associated with movements of the moon, the sun and Venus, was slow and took centuries, according to the archaeologist.
The slow spread of the decay, which began in the west, explains why human activity in large urban centers like Tikal, Yaxha or Uaxactun could end in the 9th century, yet continued on in other places like Copan in what is now Honduras until the 13th century.
The fruit of all that is the diversity and riches of the Mayan heritage that can be appreciated in Santa Rita de Corozal or in Lamanai, the land of the "submerged crocodile" in northern Belize where the culture survived longer.
It also explains why the ruins in Lamanai, which remained active until well into the 14th century, differ significantly in form from the archaeological remains of Copan, renowned for its "sumptuous altar" of sculptured stone.
At the same time, the ruins of both towns are different from those of the early city of Tikal in the Peten region, where, the archaeologist believes, harmony governs a space of prominent pyramidal temples that stretch toward the sky in an attempt to reach the Corn God, the Mayas' principal divinity.
The beauty of landscapes along the "Maya Route" is for the Guatemalan ambassador in Spain, Roberto Gereda, the best tourist advertisement in Central America, where, he says, "the wisdom of the pre-Columbian people lives on." Gereda told EFE that a journey through this region, where in Guatemala alone as many as 21 indigenous languages are spoken, is sufficient to understand the need to protect the identities of the groups that now maintain that diversity.
In his opinion, not only the culture of the Mayan communities is threatened by the "new globalized world," but also their heritage and environment because of "the ambition" of looters of treasure, wood and endangered animals like the jaguar and the quetzal, the Indians' sacred bird. Nonetheless, the ambassador pointed to the "serious efforts" underway for sustainable development in Central America.