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Understanding Collapse
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    Meehan, Pascale 2018. Rural responses following collapse: insights from Monte El Santo, Oaxaca, Mexico. World Archaeology, p. 1.

    Haldon, John Mordechai, Lee Newfield, Timothy P. Chase, Arlen F. Izdebski, Adam Guzowski, Piotr Labuhn, Inga and Roberts, Neil 2018. History meets palaeoscience: Consilience and collaboration in studying past societal responses to environmental change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 115, Issue. 13, p. 3210.

    Chase, Adrian S. Z. and Cesaretti, Rudolf 2018. Diversity in ancient Maya water management strategies and landscapes at Caracol, Belize, and Tikal, Guatemala. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water, p. e1332.

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Book description

Understanding Collapse explores the collapse of ancient civilisations, such as the Roman Empire, the Maya, and Easter Island. In this lively survey, Guy D. Middleton critically examines our ideas about collapse - how we explain it and how we have constructed potentially misleading myths around collapses - showing how and why collapse of societies was a much more complex phenomenon than is often admitted. Rather than positing a single explanatory model of collapse - economic, social, or environmental - Middleton gives full consideration to the overlooked resilience in communities of ancient peoples and the choices that they made. He offers a fresh interpretation of collapse that will be accessible to both students and scholars. The book is an engaging, introductory-level survey of collapse in the archaeology/history literature, which will be ideal for use in courses on the collapse of civilizations, sustainability, and climate change. It includes up-to-date case studies of famous and less well-known examples of collapses, and is illustrated with 25 black and white illustrations, 3 line drawings, 16 tables and 18 maps.


'Middleton’s book is the best introduction to 'collapsology'. It carefully dissects theories, especially grand theories, and marshals data so that the reader can see what collapses (and what doesn’t) in major cases from Rome and Egypt to the Maya and Easter Island. It is informative from beginning to end and gracefully written.'

Norman Yoffee - University of Michigan

'Moving well beyond the traditional rise-and-fall schemas of civilizational studies, Guy D. Middleton asks us to consider the complexities of human approaches to political sustainability across space and time. By doing so, he creates a deeper understanding of the variability in human agency and political decision-making. Along the way, he exposes myth-making both in the past and the present. This engaging, accessible, and comprehensively researched book offers no monolithic explanation for past crises of governance but astutely assesses human socio-ecological interactions in a wide range of archaic states and empires. This book is an essential read for every aspiring student of past (and current) political collapse.'

Patricia A. McAnany - Kenan Eminent Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

'Middleton aims to provide an introduction to ‘collapsology’, offering a wide-ranging and impressively comprehensive overview of previous scholarship, written in an accessible and succinct way that will be appealing for undergraduate or graduate courses on the collapse of complex societies, or for scholars seeking overviews of regions in which they do not specialize.'

Source: Cambridge Archaeological Journal

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The interested reader or student of collapse may wish to delve deeper or follow up on specific instances of collapse, but the literature on collapse is extensive and is to be found spread across specialist and popular books and academic journals of many disciplines. This essay describes only a few of those books and journals that are important or easy to get hold of (the reader should also refer to the endnotes for each chapter). More extensive bibliographies can be found in G. D. Middleton (2012) ‘Nothing lasts forever: Environmental discourses on the collapse of past societies.’ Journal of Archaeological Research 20(3): 257–307 and in the works referred to below.

Useful general archaeology books are The Human Past: World Prehistory & The Development of Human Societies (second edition, Thames and Hudson, 2009) edited by Chris Scarre, which is an excellent and affordable introduction to many of the societies and traditions examined in this book; it also contains some discussion of collapses and transformations. The Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology (and Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History) series is good, with volumes devoted to specific areas such as Anatolia, Bronze Age Greece, the Levant, and Mesoamerica. The three-volume Cambridge World Prehistory (Cambridge University Press, 2014), edited by Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn, also contains much relevant discussion.


In addition to this one, three other new volumes on collapse have been/are being published in 2017. These are: Scott A. Johnson’s Why Did Civilizations Fail? (Routledge), which adopts an environmental slant in an examination of several instances of collapse, but Johnson does not seek to explain any of these solely by blaming environmental problems, which makes it a more useful contribution to the literature. The other two are edited volumes, quite different in nature. The first is: Tim Cunningham and Jan Driessen’s (eds.) Crisis to Collapse: The Archaeology of Social Breakdown, the published results of an workshop of archaeologists, working on different areas and cultures, at Louvain University in 2015; the second addresses collapse as a wider social discourse across multiple genres and will be important for examining how collapse is imaged and imagined – Alison Vogelaar, Brack Hale, and Alexandra Peat (eds.) The Discourses of Environmental Collapse (Routledge).

Still key readings are the two books published in 1988: Joseph A. Tainter The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press) and Norman Yoffee and George L. Cowgill (eds.) Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations (University of Arizona Press). The first reviews numerous cases of collapse, analyses various explanatory theories, and proposes an economic theory of collapse; however, it is now dated in its case studies and sources. The second offers an important series of useful and stimulating essays by different authors focusing on examples and theories of collapse and decline. David Webster’s The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse (Thames and Hudson, 2002), whilst specifically addressing the Classic Maya collapse, offers a good introduction to collapse generally and to many explanatory theories which crop up in other cases.

Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Penguin, 2005) includes several case studies of ancient collapses, generally attributing them to ecological damage or environmental change. Diamond’s book must be read alongside the essays in Patricia A. McAnany and N. Yoffee (eds.) Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2010); written by specialist archaeologists and historians. This volume offers different interpretations of and perspectives on the collapses that Diamond discusses and focusses more on the resilience of human communities. In addition, J. A. Tainter’s 2008 essay ‘Collapse, sustainability, and the environment: How authors choose to fail or succeed.’ Reviews in Anthropology 37: 342–371 is a thoughtful review of Diamond’s and three other authors’ books on collapse, with some general discussion of his own views.

For climate collapse theories, starting points are Harvey Weiss and Raymond S. Bradley’s 2001 article ‘What drives societal collapse?’ Science 291: 609–610 and the popular article by Michael Marshall (2012) ‘Climate change: The great civilization destroyer.’ New Scientist 215(2876): 32–36; also see the books of Brian Fagan: The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300–1850 (Basic Books, 2000), The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization (Basic Books, 2004), The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (Bloomsbury, 2008), and Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations (revised edition, Basic Books, 2009) and Ian Whyte’s World Without end? Environmental Disaster and the Collapse of Empires (I.B. Tauris, 2008). For environmental damage theories, see Clive Ponting’s A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of the Great Civilizations (revised edition, Penguin, 2007) and, for an archaeological account, Charles L. Redman’s Human Impact on Ancient Environments (University of Arizona Press, 1999).

Three recent articles address collapse from an archaeological perspective: Karl Butzer (2012) ‘Collapse, environment, and society.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(10): 3632–3639, K. Butzer and Georgina H. Endfield (2012) ‘Critical perspectives on historical collapse.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(10): 3628–3631, and Guy D. Middleton (2012). ‘Nothing lasts forever: Environmental discourses on the collapse of past societies.’ Journal of Archaeological Research 20(3): 257–307. These authors are sceptical about purely environmental explanations of collapse. Andrew Lawler offers a brief but interesting discussion of the current views of several archaeologists in ‘Collapse? What collapse? Societal change revisited.’ Science 330: 907–909 (2010).

Two works focus specifically on what happens after collapse. The first is J. A. Tainter ‘Post-collapse societies.’ In G. Barker (ed.) Companion Encyclopedia of Archaeology (Routledge, 1999), pp. 988–1039 and the second is Glenn M. Schwartz and John J. Nichols (eds.) After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies (University of Arizona Press, 2006). Both offer general comments on collapse and post-collapse periods as well as examine specific cases; the latter, a very useful book, is up-to-date and written by subject specialists in archaeology.


An important discussion of the Old Kingdom collapse and the First Intermediate Period is Stephan Seidlmayer ‘The First Intermediate Period (c. 2160–2055 BC).’ In I. Shaw (ed.) The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 108–136. Environmental approaches are found in the still influential paper by Barbara Bell (1971) ‘The Dark Ages in ancient history: 1. The first Dark Age in Egypt.’ American Journal of Archaeology 75: 1–26 and Fekri A. Hassan (2007) ‘Droughts, famine, and the collapse of the Old Kingdom: Re-reading Ipuwer.’ In Z. Hawass and J. Richards (eds.) The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Egypt: Essays in Honour of David B. O’Connor. Vol. 1. (Conseil Supreme des Antiquites de’l Egypte, 2007), pp. 357–377. The last two should be read along with Nadine Moeller (2005) ‘The First Intermediate Period: A time of famine and climate change?’ Ägypten und Levante 15: 153–167 as well as Seidlmayer (2000).

General works that also discuss the collapse and change, the FIP and the sources for it, are Marc Van De Mieroop’s A History of Ancient Egypt (Blackwell, 2011) and Toby Wilkinson’s The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt (Bloomsbury, 2010).


Benjamin R. Foster’s The Age of Agade: Inventing Empire in Ancient Mesopotamia (Routledge, 2016) came out too late to be referred to in the text, but contains a historical overview and a section about Akkadian collapse. Mario Liverani’s The Ancient Near East: History, Society and Economy (Routledge, 2014) covers a swath of Near Eastern history from the Neolithic to Persian times, in which various empires and collapses, including Akkadian and Ur III, are examined.

Specific works on the Akkadian collapse include: H. Weiss and M.-A. Courty et al. (1993) ‘The genesis and collapse of third millennium north Mesopotamian civilization.’ Science 261: 995–1004, and later works by Weiss, which should be read along with Richard L. Zettler (2003) ‘Reconstructing the world of ancient Mesopotamia: Divided beginnings and holistic history.’ Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient 46: 3–45 [republished in N. Yoffee and B. L. Crowell (eds.). (2006). Excavating Asian History: Interdisciplinary Studies in Archaeology and History. University of Arizona Press, pp. 113–159.].

An interesting assessment of environmental hazards in Mesopotamia is Tate Paulette ‘Domination and resilience in Bronze Age Mesopotamia.’ In J. Cooper and P. Sheets (eds.) Surviving Sudden Environmental Change: Answers from Archaeology (University of Colorado Press, 2012), pp. 167–195. Arne Wossink’s Challenging Climate Change: Competition and Cooperation among Pastoralists and Agriculturalists in Northern Mesopotamia (c. 30001600 BC) (Sidestone Press, 2009) is a recent review. Also key is Aage Westenholz’s ‘The Old Akkadian Period: History and culture.’ In Sallaberger, W. and Westenholz, A. Mesopotamien. Akkade-Zeit und Ur III-Zeit. Orbis biblicus et Orientalis 160/3 (Universitatsverlag Freiburg Schweiz, 1999), pp. 17–117.

Mario Liverani’s chapter ‘The fall of the Assyrian empire: Ancient and modern interpretations.’ In S. E. Alcock, T. N. D’Altroy, K. D. Morrison, and C. M. Sinopoli (eds.) Empires (Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 374–391 is also a useful and interesting discussion of Mesopotamian collapses and what they meant within Mesopotamian culture.

General works that include discussion of collapses in the Near East include M. Van De Mieroop A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000–323 BC (second edition, Blackwell, 2007) and Gwendolyn Leick’s very readable Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City (Penguin, 2001).


The starting place for views on the Harappan culture is now Robin Coningham and Ruth Young’s The Archaeology of South Asia: From the Indus to Asoka, c. 6500 BCE – 200 CE (Cambridge University Press, 2015), which has a full discussion of the transformation of Indus society. Rita Wright’s The Ancient Indus: Urbanism, Economy, and Society (Cambridge University Press, 2010) is another recent discussion. J. M. Kenoyer’s Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization (Oxford University Press, 1998) is a very readable and extremely attractive and well-illustrated introduction to the archaeology and culture of the Indus Valley, with a chapter on the transition from the Harappan to the Late Harappan and historic periods. His chapter ‘The archaeological heritage of Pakistan: From the Palaeolithic to the Indus civilization.’ In Roger D. Long (ed.) A History of Pakistan (Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 1–90 is also a good recent summary.

An article in Science brings together a range of ideas on the Indus collapse: A. Lawler (2008) ‘Indus collapse: The end or beginning of an Asian culture?’ Science 320: 1281–1283. Important discussion is also found in Gregory L. Possehl (1997) ‘The transformation of the Indus civilization.’ Journal of World Prehistory 11: 425–472, which has been republished in Possehl’s The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective (AltaMira Press, 2002).


Treatment of the Minoan collapse can be found in Jan Driessen and Colin F. MacDonald The Troubled Island. Minoan Crete Before and After the Santorini Eruption (Aegaeum 17, University of Liege, 1997), which discusses the possible long-term social effects of the Santorini/Thera eruption. A review of (fairly) recent archaeological research on the period can be found in Paul Rehak and John G. Younger’s article ‘Neopalatial, Final palatial and Postpalatial Crete.’ In T. Cullen (ed.) Aegean Prehistory: A Review (Archaeological Institute of America, 2001), pp. 383–473.

There are also relevant chapters in two recent handbooks: Erik Hallager (2010) ‘Crete.’ in E. H. Cline (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 149–159; and Laura Preston ‘Late Minoan II to IIIB Crete.’ In C. W. Shelmerdine (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 310–326, as well as the older Ken A. Wardle ‘The palace civilizations of Crete and Greece.’ In B. Cunliffe (ed.) The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe (Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 202–243.

For Crete from 1200 BC and after, see Saro Wallace’s Ancient Crete: From Successful Collapse to Democracy’s Alternatives, Twelfth to Fifth Centuries BC (Cambridge University Press, 2010).


There are several books on the collapse, the latest, with a good discussion of the archaeological background and the various theories, is Eric Cline’s 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Princeton University Press, 2014), which deals with Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Also see Oliver Dickinson The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age: Continuity and Change Between the Twelfth and Eighth Centuries (Routledge, 2006) for the collapse period and after. Robert Drews’ The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 BC (Princeton University Press, 1993) is still good and critically examines a range of theories; he offers a military explanation of the collapse. Guy D. Middleton The Collapse of Palatial Society in Late Bronze Age Greece and the Postpalatial Period (Archaeopress, 2010) is a fairly up-to-date examination, which refers also to the Hittite and Classic Maya collapses.

There are several useful chapters in recent archaeological handbooks: Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy ‘Decline, destruction, aftermath.’ In C. W. Shelmerdine (ed.).The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 387–415 and Oliver Dickinson ‘The collapse at the end of the Bronze Age.’ In Cline, E. H. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 483–490. Older but still useful is Mervyn Popham ‘The collapse of Aegean civilization at the end of the Late Bronze Age.’ In B. Cunliffe (ed.) The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe (Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 277–303.

An new paper by A. Bernard Knapp and Sturt W. Manning, ‘Crisis in context: The end of the Late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean.’ in the American Journal of Archaeology 120(1), January 2016, appeared too late to be properly considered properly in this book. However, it is an up-to-date and thorough treatment, which questions the increasingly prominent climatic data and explanations and privileges human agency.


For Hittite history, Trevor Bryce’s The Kingdom of the Hittites (new edition, Oxford University Press, 2005) is the standard work in English with a good discussion of the collapse and the eastern Mediterranean around 1200 BC. Marc Van De Mieroop’s The Eastern Mediterranean in the Age of Ramesses II (Blackwell, 2010) also deals with collapse in the eastern Mediterranean, emphasising social factors. Bryce’s 2005 article ‘The last days of Hattusa.’ Archaeology Odyssey 8(1): 32–41, 51 is an interesting short treatment.

For the post-Hittite period, see T. Bryce The World of the Neo-Hittite Kingdoms (Oxford University Press, 2012) and J. D. Hawkins (2009) ‘Cilicia, the Amuq, and Aleppo: New light in a dark age.’ Near Eastern Archaeology 72: 164–172.

On Cyprus see A. Bernard Knapp’s The Archaeology of Cyprus: From Earliest Prehistory through the Bronze Age (Cambridge University Press, 2013); and Louise Steel’s Cyprus Before History: From the Earliest Settlers to the End of the Bronze Age (Duckworth, 2004).

For the eastern Mediterranean more generally, and the Sea Peoples, the literature is vast. Good sources include: Ann E. Killebrew and Gunnar Lehmann’s edited volume The Philistines and Other ‘Sea Peoples’ in Text and Archaeology (Society of Biblical Literature, 2013); A. B. Knapp and Peter van Dommelen (eds.). The Cambridge Prehistory of the Bronze and Iron Age Mediterranean (Cambridge University Press, 2014); and Margreet L. Steiner and Ann E. Killebrew (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant c. 8000-332 BCE (Oxford University Press, 2014). These contain much up-to-date evidence and opinion and the reader can chase the copious references for other views.


There are plenty of books dealing with the collapse of Rome or parts of the empire. A few recent works include: Neil Christie The Fall of the Western Roman Empire: An Archaeological & Historical Perspective (Bloomsbury, 2011), which, as the title says, combines archaeological and historical approaches in a refreshing way; Adrian Goldsworthy How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower (Yale University Press, 2009); Guy Halsall Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 357–568 (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Peter Heather The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History (Pan Macmillan, 2005); and Bryan Ward-Perkins The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford University Press, 2005) are all good too. James J. O’Donnell The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History (Ecco, 2008) offers some different perspectives.

Donal Kagan’s The End of the Roman Empire (D. C. Heath, 1992) contains excerpts from older works addressing the fall of Rome. Thomas F. X. Noble (ed.) From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms (Routledge, 2006) gathers together more recent essays on a number of relevant topics.

For Late Antiquity, the classic book is Peter Brown’s influential The World of Late Antiquity (Thames and Hudson, 1971). Two papers also worth reading for their perspectives are: Greg W. Bowersock (1996) ‘The vanishing paradigm of the fall of Rome.’ Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 49: 29–43; and Walter Goffart (2008). ‘Rome’s final conquest: The Barbarians.’ History Compass 6(3): 855–883.

A series of interesting and relevant articles were published in the Journal of Late Antiquity 2(1) in 2009.

Dealing with Rome and post-imperial times two chapters in George Holmes (ed.) The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe (Oxford, 1988) are relevant: Thomas Brown’s ‘The transformation of the Roman Mediterranean, 400–900,’ pp. 1–62; and Edward James’ ‘The northern world in the Dark Ages, 400–900,’ pp. 63–114.

John Drinkwater and Hugh Elton’s Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of Identity? (Cambridge University Press, 1992) is a scholarly work with chapters dealing with aspects of change in post-Roman Gaul. Also of interest are Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (Penguin, 2009); and Peter Wells’ Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered (W. W. Norton, 2008).

Useful general textbooks are: Stephen Mitchell’s A History of the Later Roman Empire, AD 284–641 (Blackwell, 2007); and David Potter’s Rome in the Ancient World: From Romulus to Justinian (Thames and Hudson, 2009). Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard’s AD 410: The Year that Shook Rome (British Museum Press, 2010) is a good well-illustrated book on the sack of Rome.


On Rio Viejo, see Arthur A. Joyce et al. (2014). ‘Political transformations and the everyday in Postclassic Oaxaca.’ Ancient Mesoamerica 25(2): 389–410; A. A. Joyce and E. T. Weller (2007). ‘Commoner rituals, resistance, and the Classic-to-Postclassic transition in ancient Mesoamerica.’ In N. Gonlin and J. C. Lohse (eds.) Commoner Ritual and Ideology in Ancient Mesoamerica (University Press of Colorado), pp. 143–184; and A. A. Joyce, L. Arnaud Bustamente, and M. Levine (2001). ‘Commoner power: A case study from the Classic Period collapse on the Oaxaca coast.’ Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 8(4): 343–385.

For Teotihuacan, recent work is summarised in Deborah L. Nichols (2015) ‘Teotihuacan.’ Journal of Archaeological Research 24(1): 1–74, which contains extensive references. An important new textbook is George L. Cowgill Ancient Teotihuacan: Early Urbanism in Central Mexico (Cambridge University Press, 2015), which devotes a chapter to the collapse. There are also relevant chapters in Takeshi Inomata and Ronald W. Webb (eds.) The Archaeology of Settlement Abandonment in Middle America (University of Utah Press, 2003), in particular those by Linda Manzanilla, ‘The abandonment of Teotihuacan,’ pp. 91–102, and William T. Sanders, ‘Collapse and abandonment in Middle America,’ pp. 193–202; the book is useful for considering the phenomenon of site abandonment generally. William T. Sanders and S. T. Evans’ chapter ‘Rulership and palaces in Teotihuacan.’ In J. J. Christie and P. J. Sarro (eds.) Palaces and Power in the Americas: From Peru to the Northwest Coast (University of Texas Press, 2006), pp. 256–284 discusses the changes through time at Teotihuacan and also its foreign relations.

Rene Millon’s chapter ‘The last years of Teotihuacan dominance.’ In N. Yoffee and G. L. Cowgill (eds.) The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations (University of Arizona Press, 1988), pp. 102–164 is still important. Two essays by George Cowgill are also still useful: (1997) ‘State and society at Teotihuacan, Mexico.’ Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 129–161 and (1997). ‘An update on Teotihuacan.’ Antiquity 82: 962–975. A paper by Sarah C. Clayton will also be of great relevance but appeared too late to be consulted here: ‘After Teotihuacan: A view of collapse and reorganization from the southern Basin of Mexico.’ American Anthropologist 118(1): 104-120 (2016).

There is now The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Mesoamerican Archaeology, edited by Deborah L. Nichols and Christopher A. Pool (Oxford University Press 2012) The general textbook on ancient Mexico by Susan Toby Evans contains good discussion of Teotihuacan, as well as other Mesoamerican sites and collapses: Ancient Mexico & Central America (Thames and Hudson, 2004). Also useful is David Webster and S. T. Evans ‘Mesoamerican civilization.’ In C. Scarre (ed.) The Human Past: World Prehistory & the Development of Human Societies (second edition, Thames and Hudson, 2009), pp. 594–639.


As with the Roman Empire, there are many contributions to the debate on the Maya collapse. Arthur A. Demarest’s 2013 paper ‘The collapse of the Classic Maya kingdoms of the southwestern Peten: Implications for the end of the Classic Maya civilization.’ In M.-C. Arnauld and A. Breton (eds.) Millenary Maya Societies: Past Crises and Resilience. Electronic document, published online at Mesoweb: is an excellent starting point as is James J. Aimers’ (2007) paper ‘What Maya collapse? Terminal Classic variation in the Maya Lowlands.’ Journal of Archaeological Research 15: 329–377, which reviews the many theories of collapse and current research up to the date of his paper. David Webster’s The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse (Thames and Hudson, 2002) also offers a very readable discussion of theories of collapse. All three of these are useful readings about collapse generally. Also see Webster’s chapter ‘The Classic Maya collapse.’ In D. L. Nichols and C. A. Pool (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 324–334. A new book will also be important: Gyles Iannone, Brett A. Houk, and Sonja A. Schwake (eds.) Ritual, Violence, and the Fall of the Classic Maya Kings (University of Florida Press, 2016). New works will keep appearing and views modified and refined.

For more in depth and specific research on numerous sites the chapters in A. A. Demarest, Prudence M. Rice, and Don S. Rice (eds.) Terminal Classic in the Maya Lowlands: Collapse, Transition and Transformation (University Press of Colorado, 2004) are important contributions.

For the megadrought theory of collapse, see Richardson B. Gill The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life, and Death (University of New Mexico Press, 2000), which must be read with G. Iannone (ed.) The Great Maya Droughts in Cultural Context: Case Studies in Resilience and Vulnerability (University Press of Colorado, 2014).

Demarest’s collapse chapter in his Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization (Cambridge University Press, 2004) focuses on the role of human conflict in the Maya collapse; a forthcoming new edition will present new evidence, ideas, and interpretations.


On the Moche, see Garth Bawden’s The Moche (Blackwell, 1999) and more recently E. P. Benson’s The Worlds of the Moche on the North Coast of Peru (University of Texas Press, 2012). Jeffrey Quilter (2002). ‘Moche politics, religion, and warfare.’ Journal of World Prehistory 16(2): 145–195 is a useful article.

Alan L. Kolata The Tiwanaku: Portrait of an Andean Civilization (Wiley-Blackwell, 1993) and John Wayne Janusek Ancient Tiwanaku (Cambridge University Press, 2008) both contain chapters on the Tiwanaku and Wari collapses, as well as discussions of the culture and interpretations of the Tiwanaku phenomenon. The Tiwanaku collapse is dealt with in depth in Janusek’s fascinating 2004 article ‘Collapse as cultural revolution: Power and identity in the Tiwanaku to Pacajes transition.’ Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 14: 175–209, which gives interesting views on the nature of this particular collapse, some of which can be usefully applied to other examples.


Good general accounts include Charles Higham’s The Civilization of Angkor (Phoenix, 2001), Michael Coe’s more archaeological and well-illustrated Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Thames and Hudson, 2003), and Thierry Zephir’s Khmer: Lost Empire of Cambodia (Thames and Hudson, 1998). Bruno Dagens’ Angkor: Heart of an Asian Empire (Thames and Hudson, 1995) is a good, well-illustrated introduction to the city of Angkor. Also very useful is Miriam T. Stark (2006). ‘From Funan to Angkor: Collapse and regeneration in Ancient Cambodia.’ In Schwartz, G. M. and Nichols, J. J. (eds.). After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies. Tucson: Arizona University Press, pp. 144–167.

The environmentalist position can be found in: Richard Stone (2009). ‘Divining Angkor.’ National Geographic 216(1): 26–55; Mary Beth Day et al. (2012) ‘Paleoenvironmental history of the West Baray, Angkor (Cambodia).’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(4): 1046–1051 and Brendan Buckley et al. (2010). ‘Climate as a contributing factor in the demise of Angkor, Cambodia.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(15): 6748–6752.

A useful introduction to wider southeast Asia, including Angkor and its neighbours, is Keith W. Taylor’s chapter ‘The early kingdoms.’ In N. Tarling (ed.) The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Volume One Part One. From Early Times to c. 1500 (Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 137–182.


Christopher M. Stevenson et al. (2015). ‘Variation in Rapa Nui (Easter Island) land use indicates production and population peaks prior to European contact.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Available at: provides a new interpretation of population changes on Easter Island and reviews recent and earlier views.

Useful works on Easter Island that discuss collapse are: Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo’s The Statues that Walked: Unravelling the Mystery of Easter Island (New York: Free Press, 2011) and Steven R. Fischer (2005). Island at the End of the World: The Turbulent History of Easter Island (Reaktion Books, 2005); also John Flenley and Paul Bahn The Enigmas of Easter Island (Oxford University Press, 2002). T. Hunt and C. Lipo have also published a number of relevant papers on Easter Island the collapse.

A new book, J. J. Boersema’s The Survival of Easter Island: Dwindling Resources and Cultural Resilience (Cambridge University Press, 2015), came out too late to be referred to properly here, but will contain relevant discussion of collapse and resilience on Easter Island.


A few sources of interest are: Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power Prosperity and Poverty (Profile Books Ltd, 2012), which is a great antidote to the persistent determinist theories of development, with ideas applicable to ancient collapses; and Anthony D. Barnosky et al. (2011). ‘Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?’ Nature 471(7336): 51–57; Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic Global Catastrophic Risks (Oxford University Press, 2008); Michael Hoffman et al. (2010). ‘The impact of conservation on the status of the world’s vertebrates.’ Science 330: 1503–1509; Trevor Palmer Perilous Planet Earth: Catastrophes and Catastrophism through the Ages (Cambridge, 2003); A. D. Rogers and D. d’A Laffoley (2011). ‘International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts.’ Summary report. IPSO Oxford, 18pp; John L. Seitz and Kristen A. Hite Global Issues: An Introduction (fourth edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012); The World Economic Forum (2014). Global Risks 2014, Ninth Edition. Geneva: World Economic Forum; UNEP Global Environment Alert Service (2012). One Planet, How Many People? A Review of Earth’s Carrying Capacity. Available at: