The second branch of the multiple factor theory is based on the socioeconomical and political portrayal of overpopulation. Evidence suggests that the elite class was growing to top heavy, through intermarriages and polygamy. Demarest states, that polygamy was popular within the Mayan society, this was a useful way to extend power and form alliances. It is suggested that these high levels were encouraged to generate mass labour needed to support the great amounts of construction, wars and religious ceremonies of these competing elites. This would have worsened the stresses on the already unstable political structure by the increased number of rival vassal lords.
The Mayan people put a large amount of religious and political authority on their K’uhul Ajaw. However, their power was chiefly based on ritual performance, warfare and shamanistic qualities. They had a flexible succession system in which a king could choose any family member, even a woman to rule after him. However, this system was highly unstable, creating havoc among those who aspired for the throne, through warfare and status rivalry. The characteristics of this status rivalry were seen in the construction of glorious architecture, art and monuments.
Being defined in such a way, Demarest says, “It is not surprising that the K’uhul Ajaw responded through these same mechanisms to problems such as demographic pressure or ecological deterioration. They naturally reacted by intensifying ritual activities, construction, or warfare…” the results of their misdealing with this situation would have increased stresses on the economy causing political deterioration.
Evidence was found depicting political change at Copán and Palenque. Statues depicting their rulers, portraying them possibly conversing with other lords, where as before the classic period they were always depicted alone. It is here scholars came to the conclusion that the Mayans transformed the K’uhul Ajaw System to council form. However this did not last, thereafter these areas were rapidly depopulated.
Evidence suggests that this is a sign of a loss of the despotic power of kings, that the people lost faith in their rulers. Loss of political power would have had enormous effects on their religious beliefs because they begin to doubt the ruler’s claims of supernatural power. Religion was the one thing that the divided Mayan civilization had in common, and made them one as a people. Dr. Edward Barnhart says, “If people begin to disbelieve in the kings ability to influence the supernatural, why follow him?”. He goes on to say that when their beliefs fall apart, their connection with the city would fall apart as well. Barnhart thinks that the Mayan people would not feel protected by this ruler and therefore disperse.
According to Demarest there is a considerably large amount of archaeological evidence that suggests that around the beginning of the eighth century there was intensification in warfare, particularly in the Petexbatun region of Guatemala in the highlands. It begins with the wars between Calakmul and Tikal. Dos Pilas was an ally of Tikal, but was conquered by Calakmul, thus entering itself into the war with Tikal and its allies.
Dos Pilas still remained a great site of military power after Tikal defeated Calakmul. Yet this did not last long as they were defeated by the former vassal state of Tamarindito, as recorded in monuments. Other archaeological evidence found at the site of Dos Pilas was of hastily constructed barricades around the states epicentres; these were ripped from palaces and sacred temples. For the people of this site it seemed that they were packaged in a little siege village within the walls. Other places near by show the same evidence of hastily built walls and palisades. Within the next few years the population of Dos Pilas had decreased to about five to ten percent of its original number. Between 761 and 830 A.D. it seems that Aguateca, Tamarindito, Seibel and La Amelia had collapsed into intense warfare to take up the royal seat in the Petexbatun region.
Demarest suggests that because of the newly created militarized landscape the small defended zone, could not maintain such a high population levels which lead to migration, or relocation to escape the violence. He concludes his argument by saying, the collapse of the Petexbatun region was caused by a “…rapid decline in socio-political complexity. This case was also accompanied by endemic warfare and great population reduction. It was a dramatic example of the regional disintegration of a civilization.”
The word “collapse”, or “fall”, even “decline”, are all used to describe the disappearance of the Mayans, but these phrases are misleading. They guide the mind into thinking that this empire has been wiped-out. Since the first ruins were found society has learnt so much about this magnificent civilization. In the beginning archaeologists expected a monocausal collapse, yet evidence suggests that many, if not all the factors in the multiple factor theories contributed to the abandonment. It began with over population which lead to over use of land, resulting in a severe drought, causing political change and competition, which ended in warfare, thus causing the inevitable abandonment of the Mayan empire.
However, the Mayan people did not disappear, but dispersed, and in the words of Arthur Demarest, ‘what has disappeared was the unique classic-period combination of theatre-state politics and divine kingship with a complex rain forest adaption that had evolved for over two millennia… the classic-period “holy lords” had passed into history, but Maya civilization and the Maya tradition continued.’