Pre-Columbian Mayan

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Pre-Columbian Mayan

Our understanding of the fascinating MAYAN CULTURE was completely wrong and misinterpreted until as recent as 1960, when major achievements were made in the deciphering of their glyph language. The ability to read the Mayan's own record of their history opened the door to a new understanding of the true Mayan life. Elaborately designed ceremonial cities lacking any obvious defenses initially led us to believe that the Mayans were a peaceful theocracy living in ideal harmony with their environment and each other. We could not have been further from the truth. Lowland city-states lived in constant warfare with one another and the thirst of their gods for human blood and sacrifice seemed impossible to satiate.

The geographic extent of the Mayan Empire included present day southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and western Honduras. Archaeologists divide the Mayan Culture into different periods - LATE PRE-CLASSIC / PROTO-CLASSIC (300 BC - 300 AD), EARLY CLASSIC (300 AD - 600 AD), LATE CLASSIC (600 AD - 830 AD), TERMINAL CLASSIC (830 AD - 950 AD). The earliest days of the Maya date back to 2000 BC when small farming villages first appeared in the highlands and Pacific coastline of Guatemala. Crops such as corn, squash and beans made up the staple of their diet and are believed to have been brought from previous migration through Mexico. The Maya pottery styles were unique to the early Maya settlements, though by 1000 BC, villages sprang up in the lowland regions. The Maya lived in the same locations for centuries and in a continuous state of architectural improvement and expansion leading up to the magnificent 'super-cities' we associate with them today. By 300 AD. full-scale cities were being built with stone featuring massive plazas, temples and pyramids reaching 20 stories high.

By 300 AD, the first inscriptions suddenly appeared in Maya sites. These early inscriptions were so beautiful it was as if the gods had delivered it to the Mayan themselves! Forward to 600 years later and the inscriptions cease. The first comprehensive writing system in Pre-Columbian America was invented by the Maya. Among the mysteries of the Maya are their amazing understanding of astronomy along with the development of an accurate calendar and mathematical system. Their number system was based on units of 20 and included a concept of 'zero'. It is no wonder that some believe that extra-terrestrial beings brought their knowledge to the Maya!

The skills of the Mayan craft are exemplified in their stone and wood carvings, flaked stone objects, pottery and personal adornment. Much of their art centers itself around their devotion to a religion that is both fascinating and gory. Blood-letting rituals were the norm and many acts of war were motivated by the capture of vast numbers of their enemies for ritual human sacrifice.

Perhaps a lesson for us today, recent scientific analysis of the demise of the highly advanced Mayan civilization now answers the biggest mystery of all - "What ever happened to the ancient Mayans?". Long-term high population density (500 people per square mile - the highest in the world at the time) of unbelievable proportions put a strain on their agricultural system that was impossible to sustain. The effects of nutritional deficiencies are evident in bone and tooth analysis on graves dating to the Late Classic Period. It is most probable that starvation put unbearable sociopolitical stress on the Maya people to either kill each other in competition for food and sacrifice or die of hunger. No doubt, the escalation of violence in their culture, facilitated by increasingly efficient methods of warfare and related technological advancements, was a catalyst to their own self-destruction.

by John McNamara

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Pre-Columbian Mayan