Mayan CivilizationINTRODUCTIONThe Mayan Civilization was an AncientNative American civilization that grew to be one of the most advanced civilizationsin the Americas.
The people known as the Maya lived in the regionthat is now eastern and southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador,and western Honduras. The Maya built massive stone pyramids, temples,and sculpture and accomplished complex achievements in mathematics andastronomy, which were recorded in hieroglyphs. After 900 the Maya mysteriously disappearedfrom the southern lowlands of Guatemala. They later reappeared in the northon the Yucatan Peninsula and continued to dominate the area untilthe Spanish conquest. Descendants of the Maya still form a large part ofthe population of the region.Order now
Although many have acquired Spanish ways,a significant number of modern Maya maintain ancient ethnic customs. PRE-CLASSIC PERIODThe Pre-classic period is the span oftime in which the foundation of the more modern Mayan civilization wasformed. The people went through huge developments in society andbuilt up strength. Early Mayans were farmers and helped thecommunity in keeping up the fields. They first used sticks to punchholes in the ground, but later, assumed more advanced farming techniques. Their main crops included maize (corn), beans, squash, avocados, chilipeppers, pineapples, papayas, and cacao, which was made into a chocolatedrink with water and hot chilies.
Hunting and fishing were also asource of food for the early Mayans. They often hunted rabbits, deer,and turkeys, which were made into stews. When they were not hunting,fishing, or working in the fields, Mayan men and women took part in craftinguseful items, such as stone tools, clay figurines, jade carvings, ropes,baskets, and mats. Women specialized in making clothing, such asponchos, loincloths, and skirts.
Like other ancient farming peoples, theearly Maya worshipped agricultural gods, such as the rain god and, later,the corn god. Eventually they developed the belief that gods controlledevents in each day, month, and year, and that they had to make offeringsto win the gods’ favor. Maya astronomers observed the movements of thesun, moon, and planets, made astronomical calculations, and devised almanacs. The astronomers’ observations were used to divine auspicious moments formany different kinds of activity, from farming to warfare. Rulers and nobles directed the commonersin building major settlements.
Pyramid-shaped mounds of rubble topped withaltars or thatched temples sat in the center of these settlements, andpriests performed sacrifices to the gods on them. As the Pre-classic periodprogressed, the Maya increasingly used stone in building. Both nobles andcommoners lived in extended family compounds. During the Pre-classic period the basicpatterns of ancient Maya life were established.
However, the period wasnot simply a rehearsal for the Classic period but a time of spectacularachievements. CLASSIC PERIODClassic Maya civilization became morecomplex as the population increased and centers in the highlands and thelowlands engaged in both cooperation and competition with each other. Tradeand warfare were very important to cultural growth and development. Societiesbecame more complex, with distinct social classes developing. Under the direction of their kings, whoalso performed as priests, the centers of the lowland Maya became denselypopulated jungle cities with vast stone and masonry temple and palace complexes.
During the Classic period, warfare was conducted on a fairly limited, primarilyceremonial scale. Maya rulers, who were often depicted on carved stonemonuments, carrying weapons, attempted to capture and sacrifice one anotherfor ritual and political purposes. The rulers often destroyed parts ofsome cities, but the destruction was directed mostly at temples in theceremonial precincts; it had little or no impact on the economy or populationof a city as a whole. Some city-states did occasionally conquer others,but this was not a common occurrence until very late in the Classic periodwhen lowland civilization had begun to disintegrate.
Until that time, themost common pattern of Maya warfare seems to have consisted of raids employingrapid attacks and retreats by relatively small numbers of warriors, mostof who were probably nobles. Lowland Maya centers were true cities withlarge resident populations of commoners who sustained the ruling elitesthrough payments of tribute in goods and labor. They built temples, palaces,courtyards, water reservoirs, and causeways. Sculptors carved stelae, whichrecorded information about the rulers, their family and political histories,and often included exaggeratedstatements about their conquestsof other city-states.
RELIGIONMayan religion consisted of a wide rangeof diverse and varied supernatural beings or deities. They consideredHunab Ku to be the chief god and creator of the world, followed by othervaried gods, including Itzamna, the lord of the heavens; Yum Kaax, thegod of maize; and the four Chacs, the cardinal rain gods. They also worshippedIx Chel, the rainbow goddess associated with mothers; and Ixtab, the goddessof suicide. The Maya performed many rituals and ceremoniesto communicate with their deities. At pre-arranged events, such as theMaya New Year in July, or in emergencies?such as famine, epidemics, ora great drought?the people gathered in ritual plazas to honor the gods.
People would dress in elaborate costumes and dance, take hallucinogenicdrugs, take ritual steam baths, and play ritual games. Sacrifices in theform of killing or burning would be made to the gods, such as corn, blood,piercing, children, slaves, or prisoners of war. SCIENCE AND WRITINGAlthough the Mayans were blessed withbeing mechanically skilled, most of their major achievements were in thedepartment of abstract mathematics and astronomy. One of their greatestintellectual achievements was a pair of interlocking calendars, which wasused for such purposes as the scheduling of ceremonies.
Maya astronomers could make difficult calculations,such as finding the day of the week of a particular calendar date manythousands of years in the past or in the future. They also used the conceptof zero, an extremely advanced mathematical concept. Although they hadneither decimals nor fractions, they made accurate astronomical measurementsby dropping or adding days to their calendar. The Maya developed a complex system ofhieroglyphic writing to record not only astronomical observations and calendricalcalculations, but also historical and genealogical information. Scribescarved hieroglyphs on stone stelae, altars, wooden lintels, and roof beams,or painted them on ceramic vessels and in books made of bark paper.
COLLAPSE OF A CIVILIZATIONFrom about AD 790 to 889, Classic Mayacivilization in the lowlands collapsed. Construction of temples and palacesceased, and monuments were no longer erected. The Maya abandoned the greatlowland cities, and population levels declined drastically, especiallyin the southern and central lowlands. Scholars debate the causes of thecollapse, but they are in general agreement that it was a gradual processof disintegration rather than a sudden dramatic event. A number of factors were almost certainlyinvolved, and the precise causes were different for each city-state ineach region of the lowlands. Among the factors that have been suggestedare natural disasters, disease, soil exhaustion and other agriculturalproblems, peasant revolts, internal warfare, and foreign invasions.
Whateverfactors led to the collapse, their net result was a weakening of lowlandMaya social, economic, and political systems to the point where they couldno longer support large populations. Another result was the loss of inestimableamounts of knowledge relating to Maya religion and ritual.