The Mayan Civilization ToT#005

Written by on September 25, 2017

  1. Who were the Maya?
    1. The Maya were Mesoamerican Indians that, before the Spanish conquest, possessed one of the greatest civilizations in the Western Hemisphere.
    2. It is believed that they started to settle into the Yucatán region of southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, the Honduras and northern Belize between 1600 BCE and 1400 BCE in villages with an agricultural system based on corn, beans, and squash. By 800-500 BCE many large cities began to rise and a tradition of erecting stone monuments and altars began.
  2. Archaic Era(3500 BC – 2000 BC)
    1. Agriculturalists indicated by Paleo-environmental data indicated in the Maya Lowlands as early as 3000 BC
    2. Permanent villages, class divisions and basic skills such as stone grinding, loom weaving, drilling and pottery were established in this period
  3. Early Preclassic era of the mayans 2000 BC – 1000 BC
    1. Bone analysis from early Mayan grave sites indicate that meat, fish, wild game and gathered foods were main staples of their diet, but maize was already becoming a major component at around 30% showing signs of agricultural development.
    2. Simple pottery with slipped vessels started to appear.
    3. In Tabasco, the Olmec culture starts to hit their peak granting a trade partner for early Mayans.
  4. Middle Preclassic era of the mayans 1001 BC – 400 BC
    1. More prestige trade objects such as obsidian mirrors and jade mosaics appear.
    2. Complex Canals and forms of irrigation starts to show up indicating cooperative efforts of the Mayan people.
    3. Central plazas and earthen mounds are present with carved stone depicting portraits of rulers, but devoid of writing.
    4. The Mayan people seem to become more aggressive as evidenced by advanced weaponry and portraits of rulers depicted as warriors. Also by the appearance of mass graves and beheaded skeletons.
    5. A diet of maize, jaguar worship and use of the cacao (cocoa) plant are present in the later years most likely influenced by the Olmec.
  5. Classic era of the mayans (200 AD – 1000 AD)
    1. This is the most interesting time of the Maya.  Highly sophisticated arts such as stucco work, architecture, sculptural reliefs, mural painting, pottery, and lapidary were developed and spread during this time.
    2. This is when many cities such as Tikal, Copán and Palenque reached their peaks and great achievements such as the flat top pyramids were built.
  6. Post classic era of the mayans (1000 AD – 1697 AD)
    1. During this era, many of the great cities began to fall. No one knows the true reason behind this, but most likely it was due to a combination of things. Overpopulation, illness, drought and wartime conflicts could have all been factors.
    2. This was a very violent time for the Maya, many conflicts
    3. In the early 1500’s the Spanish made contact with the Maya. They viewed them as infidels and set out to forcefully convert them to Catholicism. The Maya excelled at record keeping and had hundreds of books detailing their history. The Spanish destroyed almost all of them. Only pieces of four books are known to remain today.
    4. Population of the Maya seems to have decreased by approximately 85-90% during this time due to wars and diseases like smallpox brought over by the Spanish.
    5. Although seen as a period of decline, technological advancement in architecture, engineering, and weaponry continued to grow rapidly. Metallurgy came into use for jewelry and some tools.
  7. Facts about the Maya:
    1. -What were the Maya known for?
      1. The Maya excelled at agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making and mathematics, and left behind an astonishing amount of impressive architecture and symbolic artwork.
    2. Great Mayan Accomplishments
      1. They had an advanced numeral system with place values
        1. Base 20 system with 3 symbols. Zero, a dot, and a line.
        2. Dots = 1
        3. Lines = 5
      2. Mayan mathematics were ahead of Europe for many hundreds of years.
        1. Unlike europe at the time(Roman numerals), the Mayans recognized the value of the concept of zero. Thereby enabling them to have a place value system.
      3. The had a complex and sophisticated calendar.
        1. 365 days. 18 months of 20 days + 5 extra days.
        2. Calendar rotated every 52 years.
      4. The Maya were great astronomers.
        1. They were great astronomers, they tracked the movement of the stars and were able to calculate the days in a year more accurately than we follow today with the Gregorian calendar.
        2. 365.2420 days in a year – mayan
        3. 365.2425 days in a year – Gregorian
        4. They tracked 584 day venus cycle( with an error of only 2 hours), also tracked jupiter, mars, and mercury.
      5. They were highly skilled architects and engineers who created structures with great accuracy.
        1. They created extremely advanced palaces, acropolises, pyramids and astronomical observatories.
        2. Some popular sites include:
          1. El Castillo(Pyramid of Kukulkan) – Chichen Itza
            1. 365 steps represent the days of the calendar
            2. 52 panels on each side represent the 52 year calendar round.
              During the two equinoxes, the shadows create a feathered serpent crawling down the steps of the pyramid. Representing the deity Kulkulkan.
          2. El Caracol – Chichen Itza
            1. Observatory, Three irregular openings create sight lines
            2. 20 of 29 astronomical events that were important to the Maya may be observed here.
      6. They engineered remarkably straight elevated roads.
        1. They were able to engineer roads made of limestone 10-30 feet wide that were extremely straight for miles.
      7. They created aqueducts which used water pressure technology.
        In Palenque they had 9 perennial waterways and 56 springs

        1. They created underground aqueducts connected to these water sources that, at the cross sections, drops by about 20 feet. The cross sections would then narrow from 10 square feet, to .5 square feet that when combined with the 20 foot drop, would create water pressure capable of shooting water 20 feet high.
        2. It is suspected that this was how they provided buildings with running water.
      8. The Maya developed the only complete writing system in Mesoamerica.
        1. There are approximately 32 Mayan languages.
        2. They created a hieroglyphic system that enabled them to write everything they could say.
        3. We are still translating this script today.
      9. Mayan art is renowned for its sophistication, variety and intricacy.
        1. They created art in a variety of materials, including wood, jade, obsidian, ceramics, sculpted stone monuments, stucco and intricately painted murals.
        2. There are stone carvings all over Mesoamerica created in great detail.
      10. They knew how to produce rubber.
        1. The Maya took the latex from rubber trees and mixed it with juice from morning glory vines to produce rubber.
        2. The Maya used bouncy rubber balls to play the famous Mesoamerican Ballgame.
    3. The mayan ballgame
      1. The ballcourts were one of the main focal points of the town and would represent the cities social status.
      2. The maya ballgame was called Pitz.
      3. The goal of the game was to hit a rubber ball, sometimes up to 20 lbs through hoops on the side of the ballcourt. They could not use their hands or feet, so it made it very difficult to accomplish this task. They wore various padding and armor to protect themselves from the ball. Ironically, the game was similar to Quidditch as referenced in the Harry Potter series.
      4. The spiritual story most associated with the ballgame is that of the Maize Gods and the Hero Twins from the Popol Vuh (Book of creation). The Maya believed that it was necessary to play the game for their own survival. They would often use this game as a peaceful alternative to war. The ballgame provided an opportunity to show devoutness to the gods by sacrificing captured kings and high lords, or the losing opponents of the game.
    4. Mayan mythology – Popol Vuh (The book of creation)
      1. One and Seven Hunahpu were the first generation of hero twins.
      2. Their ballcourt was directly over Xibalba (the underworld)
      3. This disturbed the lords of Xibalba so they invited them to a match in the underworld.
      4. The lords of Xibalba set a series of tests before reaching the ballcourt.
      5. One and Seven Hunahpu failed these tests including the wooden mannequin test and the resting bench.
      6. They were sacrificed and buried beneath the ballcourt.
      7. The head of One Hunahpu was placed in the fork of a tree overseeing the ballcourt.
      8. Blood woman, the daughter of one of the lords of Xibalba approached the tree.
      9. The severed head spoke to her. When she reached out her hand, the head of One Hunahpu spat into it and she became pregnant with twins.
      10. She escaped Xibalba out of fear and gave birth to Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
      11. These twins were destined to become great ball players.
      12. They found this out by discovering a rat while farming. They held the rat’s tail over a fire (The reason rats don’t have hair there.) and it spoke to them telling them of this fact.
      13. The rat told them of their destiny and that they would need armour that their uncles One and Seven Hunahpu used when they were alive and that it could tell them where they hid it in exchange for some scraps of food.
      14. One day they were playing ball like their uncles and it disturbed the lords of Xibalba and the lords summoned them like they had their uncles
      15. Hunahpu and Xbalanque passed the tests that their uncles did not by using a mosquito to identify the real lords and by refusing to sit on the bench. (It was an cooking griddle)
      16. Now they were charged with a series of ordeals, Each in a special “house”.
      17. Dark house was defeated by keeping the torches and cigars burning until light. (They replaced the torch flames with macaw feathers, and the cigar tips with fireflies.)
      18. Razor house, they convinced the blades to slice the animals instead of them.
      19. Jaguar house, the distracted the jaguars by feeding them bones.
      20. Cold house, they locked out the cold
      21. Fire house, they weren’t burned to ashes, but only toasted golden brown.
      22. Bat house is where they made their mistake. Hunahpu peeked out the window to see if it was light and had his head sliced off by a bat.
      23. His head rolled onto the court of Xibalba.
      24. The lords of death started the game using Hunahpu’s head as the ball.
      25. Xbalanque managed to swap the head with a squash with the help of the animals
      26. Xbalanque reattached Hunahpu’s head and when the lords hit the squash, it broke open and the twins won the match.
      27. The lords challenged them to a new game consisting of jumping over a fiery pit.
      28. The twins jumped into the fire instead.
      29. The lords, thinking they had won, sprinkled their ashes into a river.
      30. The twins came back as catfish, and then their normal selves but their outward appearance was different so no one knew who they were.
      31. The hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque performed a series of tricks to the public including burning houses and bringing them back unharmed and killing a dog and bringing it back to life.
      32. The lords of Xibalba heard about their performance and summoned them to perform.
      33. They performed the dog trick for them and the lords were happy with it.
      34. They challenged them to kill each other and come back to life, so they did it.
      35. They challenged them to do the same with the lords, so Hunahpu and Xbalanque killed the two foremost lords…but they didn’t bring them back to life.
      36. They then revealed who they were and from that day forth, Xibalba had lost its glory.
      37. They then retrieved their uncle’s head from the tree and restored him back to life. And left him in a place of glory beside the ballcourt.
      38. With their heroic quest complete, Hunahpu and Xbalanque ascended to the sky to become the sun and the moon signaling the start of a new world.

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