When travelling to the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, you will somehow come in contact with the rich Mayan culture through the people, the food and the incredible archeological Mayan sights you can visit. more...
When travelling to the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, you will somehow come in contact with the rich Mayan culture through the people, the food and the incredible archeological Mayan sights you can visit.
The Mayan culture, developed out earlier civilizations such as the Olmec in Central America hundreds of years before the birth of Christ and became the first highly developed civilization in the Western Hemisphere. The Maya people were spread out over a territory of about 500 thousand square kilometers, covering the present-day Mexican states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Chiapas and Campeche, and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Belize, the western portion of El Salvador and Honduras. Much of the Mayan history has been permanently lost during the conquest of the Spaniards.
Most Mayan artistic and cultural achievements came about during the so-called Classic period (300 – 900 AD). The Mayans, united by a shared religious system and language, developed a complex hierarchical society divided into classes and professions with centralized governments, headed by a king and territories with clearly defined boundaries that changed from time to time because of battles between various groups.
Beside their well known architectural talents, a great achievement of the Mayan civilizations is the fact that, at the time, they were the only culture in the America’s that were able to write down detailed descriptions of concepts and thought. The Mayans wrote their books on their huun-paper made out of cactus fiber around the 5th century, the same era that the Romans did, but their paper was more durable and provided a better writing surface than papyrus.
The religious Spanish conquistadors ordered a mass destruction of Mayan books in an effort to wipe out the roots of the Mayan religion. Only 6 manuscripts or codex’s survived. Thankfully many of their stone carvings have survived the rampage and provide much of what is known today about their Mayan civilization. During 1980’s scientist have made great strides in deciphering the Mayan writings and allowed us to fully comprehend the scope of their achievements. Before this time many archaeologists believed that Mayan writing only dealt with calendar events and astronomical themes. It became clear that the Mayas were not only peaceful, studious stargazers but also engaged in conquering neighbors (even fellow Mayans) and engaged in making blood sacrifices to their gods.
The major cities of the Classic period were Tikal (Guatemala), Palenque and Yaxchil n (Chiapas, Mexico), Cop n and Quirigua (Honduras). For most of this period, the majority of the Maya population lived in the central lowlands of Mexico and Belize.
The Maya had a complex religion with a huge number of gods. In the Mayan’s viewed the world, the plane on which we live is just one level of a multi-layered universe made up of 13 heavens and nine underworlds. Each of these planes is ruled by a specific god and inhabited by others. Hunab Ku was the creator god and various other gods were responsible for forces of nature, such as Chac, the rain god. Mayan rulers were considered to be divine and traced their genealogies back to prove their descendence from the gods. Mayan religious ceremonies included the ball game, human sacrifice and bloodletting ceremonies in which nobles pierced their tongues or genitals to shed blood as an offering to the gods.
The Mayans could measure time well into the future and used their calendar to predict the future and astrological events. They made significant discoveries in science and independently came up with the idea to use the zero in mathematics. The Mayans were skilled farmers, clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and where groundwater was scarce they built sizeable underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater. The Maya were equally skilled as weavers and potters, and cleared routes through jungles and swamps to develop and maintain extensive trade networks with distant peoples.
The Mayan golden age lasted about six centuries. Then, around 900 AD the Mayans stopped building temples, became fragmented and increasingly started to fight each other. From the North came the Toltec and became the ruling elite of the Maya ,Toltec gods were added to the Maya pantheon. The Toltec's were fully absorbed in the Mayan culture as they leaned to speak Yucatec Maya.
By the time of the Spanish arrival around A.D. 1520, the Mayans were a starkly diminished civilization. Their great cities were abandoned and the remnants of their population widely scattered. Other than on the Caribbean Islands were almost all native inhabitants died after the arrival of the Spanish, the Mayan people and culture managed to survive. There are over 750 thousand speakers of Mayan languages living in Mexico today. They live in the same areas their ancestors once inhabited. Many Mayas maintain their language and traditions, which has chanced over time. Present-day Mayan religion is a colorful hybrid of Catholicism and ancient beliefs and rituals. Some Lacandon Mayan’s still live in a traditional manner in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas.
The Maya culture left an enormous cultural legacy, developing unique architecture, the design of jewelry and ceramics, the construction of an advanced written language, and an amazing knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, more advanced than that of European civilization at the time. It just makes you wonder what would have happened if the Mayans had managed to invent the wheel.