Extreme weather has battered the US over the last two weeks, with superstorm Sandy, nor'easter Athena and winter storm Brutus all causing death and destruction.

Mayan prophecy predicts that the world will end on December 21 2012. This forecast appears somewhat poignant now that it has emerged the ancient civilisation's downfall was triggered by extreme weather.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have found that ancient Maya was crippled by decades of extreme weather before its demise just under 1,000 years ago.

The collapse of the Mayan civilisation remains a world mystery. However, it is now believed that years of droughts and storms decimated the ancient culture.

Extreme weather first destroyed the political culture and then moved on to the human population.

Bruce Winterhalder, co-author of the study, said: "Here you had an amazing state-level society that had created calendars, magnificent architecture, works of art, and was engaged in trade throughout Central America.

"They were incredible craftspersons, proficient in agriculture, statesmanship and warfare - and within about 80 years, it fell completely apart.

"It's a cautionary tale about how fragile our political structure might be. Are we in danger the same way the Classic Maya were in danger? I don't know.

"But I suspect that just before their rapid descent and disappearance, Maya political elites were quite confident about their achievements."

Researchers combined the climatic records of the Maya environment with the civilisation's political history. They also used 30 years' worth of data from studies of the culture's stone monuments.

The stones show significant events, such as rulers' accession to power or birthdays, deaths, burials and battles. However, ecological events - like storms or droughts - are not documented

Researchers note that there were fewer monuments carved in the years up to the collapse of the civilisation.

To find out about the weather conditions, the scientists collected stalagmite from a nearby cave and used it to measure rainfall over the last 2,000 years.

The study said: "Combined, the stalagmite and hieroglyphs allowed the researchers to link precipitation to politics. Periods of high and increasing rainfall coincided with a rise in population and political centres between A.D. 300 and 660.

"A climate reversal and drying trend between A.D. 660 and 1000 triggered political competition, increased warfare, overall socio-political instability and, finally, political collapse.

"This was followed by an extended drought between A.D. 1020 and 1100 that likely corresponded with crop failures, death, famine, migration and, ultimately, the collapse of the Maya population."

Martha Macri, a specialist in Maya hieroglyphics, said it is now clear that weather events can result in political unrest, disease and invasion.

"There is physical evidence that correlates right along with it. We are dependent on climatological events that are beyond our control."

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