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Research at Penn State: The Mayan Apocalypse or Just a Lack of Precipitation?

by on November 24, 2012 8:02 AM

A few people probably have the date, Dec. 21, circled on their calendars as the end of the world as we know it. I'm not an expert on this, but these folks believe that the calendar created by the Mayans, a Mesoamerican civilization that developed an intricate astronomical system, stops on Dec. 21, 2012, signaling the end of the world or a powerful transformative event. 

I don't know whether this is true or not, but I started to consider the Mayan prophecy might be correct when I heard Hostess may no longer make Ho Hos.

Indeed, losing Ho Hos or Twinkies would be a powerful transformative event for me -- primarily in my abdominal area.

According to an international team of researchers led by Douglas Kennett, professor of anthropology at Penn State, it wasn't a unique alignment of constellations, or even the sudden and tragic demise of quality snack products, that led to the collapse of Mayan civilization around 1000 A.D.           

It was rain.

Using rainfall records taken from stalagmite samples collected from a cave located near Uxbenka, an ancient city in the tropical Maya Lowlands of southern Belize, and comparing these findings with the Mayan's own the detailed political histories, the researchers showed how Mayan political systems developed and disintegrated in response to changes in their climate.

"Unusually high amounts of rainfall favored an increase in food production and an explosion in the population between AD 450 and 660," said Kennett. "This led to the proliferation of cities like Tikal, Copan and Caracol across the Maya lowlands. The new climate data show that this salubrious period was followed by a general drying trend lasting four centuries that was punctuated by a series of major droughts that triggered a decline in agricultural productivity and contributed to societal fragmentation and political collapse."

The story was featured not once, but twice in the New York Times, in this article and blog post.

You can read more about climate change's effect on the Maya here.

Here are some more examples of the research going on at Penn State right now.

Green Tea May Lower Some Blood Sugar Spikes

An ingredient in green tea that helps reduce blood sugar spikes in mice may lead to new diet strategies for people, according to Penn State food scientists.

Mice fed an antioxidant found in green tea -- epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG -- and corn starch had a significant reduction in increase in their blood sugar -- blood glucose -- levels compared to mice that were not fed the compound, according to Joshua Lambert, assistant professor of food science in agricultural sciences.

"The spike in blood glucose level is about 50 percent lower than the increase in the blood glucose level of mice that were not fed EGCG," Lambert said.

You can read about the study here.

Concussion Center to Make an Impact

The CDC estimates that nearly 4 million concussions occur in the United States every year, writes Tori Indivero, Penn State science and research information officer, in her latest Research Matters blog post.

She adds that the National Institutes of Health reports that of those 4 million, about 1.5 million concussions occur in children.

Penn State recently opened the Center for Sport Concussion Research and Service, a state-of-the-art center equipped with a virtual-reality facility and brain-imaging technology that will help the center achieve its two main goals: to advance research in sport-related concussions and to provide services to local collegiate and child athletes by performing baseline assessments, which can help diagnose a concussion.

You can read more about this research center at the Penn State Research Matters blog.

Interested in finding out more about the research? Friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or check out our blog, Penn State Research Matters.

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Matt is a Research and Technology Information Officer at Penn State. He also is a Public Relations Manager and Adjunct Journalism Instructor at the university.
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