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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Ancient Mayan Civilization

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

The Ancient Mayan Civilization

The rise and fall of the ancient Mayan civilization, in Central America, is filled with myth, wonder, misunderstanding, and questions marks.

Where did this ancient civilization, which lasted from about 2,600 B.C. to 1575 A.D. come from, and what precipitated its rapid demise?

At its peak, known as the Mayan Classic Period, 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., the many kingdoms comprising the Mayan society built hundreds of tall pyramids and, geographically, ranged across what we now know as southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, El Salvador, and northern Belize.

Separating myth from history can be tricky, but it’s a good bet that the story of Itzamna, the Mayans’ earliest leader and deified hero who’s said to have led the people to Central America from the Far East through a miraculous parting of the waters, was a mythical character. Another possibility, given a little more credence, is that the Mayan ancestors migrated across the Bering Straight about 20,000 years ago, then moved south.

Many consider Mayans to have been a peaceful civilization as opposed to the bloodthirsty Aztecs of central Mexico. Although life sacrifices were not the norm for Mayans, as was the case with Aztecs, blood sacrifices were major components of Mayan worship. All classes of people regularly shed blood during religious Mayan rites, but it was the blood of kings that was sacrificed most often and carried the highest value.

Although a few hundred thousand Mayan descendents still live in the Yucatan Peninsula, their numbers were reduced significantly in the mid-1500s through Spanish conquest, drought, and the mysterious matlalzahuatl disease that only impacted Native Indians, and killed off more than two million people between 1575 and 1577.

Interesting Mayan facts include:

* Preclassic Mayans were farmers who utilized crop rotation and fertilizers to grow such food as corn, avocados, and papayas; plus they hunted deer and rabbits, and were fishermen.

* Mayans were talented astronomers who created the first calendars and hieroglyphic writings in the Western hemisphere.

* Much Mayan history was destroyed, both sacred images and hieroglyphic manuscripts, in 1562 by Spanish Bishop Diego de Landa, who considered them works of the devil. Ironically, Landa is known to have tortured and killed many Mayans, as well

* Mayans were very class oriented. Most were village farmers who gave two-thirds of their crops and much of their labor to the upper classes.

* Obsidian, a smooth volcanic rock used to make weapons and tools, was a very valuable, expensive commodity to Mayans.

* To make Mayan noblemen distinctive physically, their heads were “fashionably elongated” a few days after birth by pressing them between two boards, their eyes were crossed by dangling objects before them at an early age, and their ears and teeth were inlaid with jade.

Because so much history of the ancient Mayan civilization was destroyed by Bishop Diego de Landa, what we know about the Mayans is limited. Still, there’s no argument that they created an advanced culture.

1 comment:

  1. dont you wonder why the Maya population declined??????