For life to prosper water is a fundamental necessity, but if so, how did the the ancient Maya build such a massive empire without a river to draw water from? This, the first of five videos from the BBC documentary Secrets of the Mayan Underworld, demonstrates how through a series of underground, water-filled caves that run under the majority of the Yucatan, the Mayan Underworld – contrary to their belief that it was a realm of spirits – was actually the life-source of the entire area.
Despite being one of the most active and populated centres of civilisation in the Classic Period (250 AD to 900 AD), with advanced mathematical and astronomical systems, the ancient Maya went into a sharp decline in the 8th and 9th centuries. Many theories for this collapse have been postulated by scholars, both ecological and non-ecological, however no firm agreement has been reached. Many theories centre around over-population, climate change and epidemic disease, as well as foreign invasion, mass underclass revolt and the collapse of key trading routes. Recently academics theorised that a 200 year drought was a major contributor to this mighty civilisation’s break down.