Can future cities learn from failed ancient cities?

The temple of the Great Jaguar
Image credit: Creative Commons
What lessons can be taken from the abandonment of the ancient city of Tikal? David Lentz, a professor at the University of Cincinnati states “Here was a big city. They had the best architecture, it was the centre of the universe. And it was pretty rapidly abandoned.” 

The once thriving town of Tikal in Guatemala has been an isolated ruin since the Maya left at the end of the 9th century. Researchers are now discovering clues about how the Mayan culture lived and what the city’s demise could signal for future urban resilience.

Tikal grew to be one of the most important cities in the region and lasted more than a thousand years. Whilst the Mayans did manage their resources well and made efficient use of limited resources (i.e. water) they had reached a point of living near or beyond their means by the 9th century.

By the end of the 9th century a series of droughts had strained their water resources and clearing of land for agricultural needs exasperated the problem. Eventually life as they knew couldn’t be sustained and the city was abandoned.

It’s hard to believe that a large city today could be abandoned. One lesson that can be learnt from Tikal is that if technologies aren’t adapted or don’t have the ability to adapt to changing conditions (like climate change), that a large city could disappear in a few decades. One positive is that we have more warning and awareness.

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