Deep in the jungles of Mexico and Central America we discover the Mayan Civilization complete with pyramids, remnants of palace buildings, ball courts and much more. An incredibly sophisticated ancient civilization; the Mayan empire dominated societies long before the Spanish conquered in the 16th century.
The growth of the great Mayan civilization is as much a mystery… as it’s disappearance.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Chichen Itza, Tikal, and Tulum …right?
Built way back then, without modern equipment, even today we marvel at how they constructed such an impressive network of cities. Their roads, pyramids and ceremonial centres were of gigantic proportions.
One of the most intriguing things about the Mayan was their ability to build these great cities in a tropical rainforest climate. Traditionally, ancient civilizations flourished in drier climates, where water resources (via rivers, through irrigation or other techniques) formed the basis of society (this was the case for Teotihuacan in highland Mexico.) In the southern Mayan lowlands however, there were few navigable rivers for trade and transport, as well as no obvious need for an irrigation system.
The Mayan Civilization took advantage of the area’s many natural resources, including limestone (for construction), the volcanic rock obsidian (for tools and weapons) and salt. The environment also held other treasures for the Mayan; including jade, quetzal feathers (used to decorate the elaborate costumes of Maya nobility) and marine shells, which were used as trumpets in ceremonies and warfare.
The people of the Mayan civilization were very skilled craftsmen who created incredible calendars, art, pottery, agriculture, and hieroglyph writing.
They were especially proficient in astronomy and mathematics which is especially evident at Chichen Itza.
We learned their pyramid in Chichen Itza was constructed so precisely that, on the equinox – the ‘first day of spring’ and the ‘first day of autumn/fall’ the outline of a serpent formed by shadow and light, can be seen descending the pyramid.
And just recently it has been discovered there is another pyramid within the main pyramid of El Castillo.
Their ability to create monuments and pyramids like this and the ones at Teotichancan continue to raise many questions…
How did they do it?
How did they transport the materials?
What tools did they use?
There’s only ever speculative and theoretical answers.
Apparently human sacrifice on a large scale was introduced to the Mayan by the Toltecs. Six limestone reliefs at the ball court structure at Chichen Itza depict the decapitation of a ball player. It seems that the losers (or winners?), would be beheaded and would have their skulls placed on the Tzompantli (the wall of skulls).
Ok, I guess we’re not playing that game anytime soon.
As for the Mayan calendar, there were several different iterations. They were utilized simultaneously for distinct purposes, and possibly calculated differently in different Mayan Cities.
The haab was a solar calendar of 365 days, pretty much like ours.
The tzolkin was a religious calendar of 260 days and it’s still utilized in some Mayan areas today.
To measure larger periods of time, the Mayan utilized the Long Count calendar. Like we call 100 years a century, they call 394 years a b’ak’tun.
You might recall the hoopla about the world ending on December 21, 2012. Well, the significance it appears, was just the end of a cycle or a b’ak’tun.
There was no Mayan prophecy signalling end of the world on December 21, 2012. Nor was there any uncommon astronomical significance to December 21, 2012.
There are many Mayan inscriptions projecting dates well after December 21, 2012, indicating that the Mayan did not believe that was the end of the world.
One such inscription can be found in Palenque.
It links the coronation in 615 A.D of ‘Pacal the Great’ (7th-century ruler of the pre-Columbian Maya site of Palenque,) to future dates, including one mention of 4772 A.D.
That’s a couple of thousand years away from today and way beyond December 21, 2012!
So where did this nonsense of the world ending on 2012 come from?
David Stuart (University of Texas) called it “complete nonsense” and says it’s promoted by “gurus and spiritualists who wouldn’t know a Mayan glyph if one hit them on the nose.” well that’s telling you!
It seems the vast majority of those who bought into the “2012 Mayan Prophecy” weren’t followers or knew nothing of the Mayan religion.
And maybe the promoters had some ‘New Age Agenda’ in the name of money. Who knows?
By 900 AD most of the stone cities of the Mayan had been suddenly abandoned. It’s long been one of ancient history’s most intriguing mysteries…
Why did the Mayan, a remarkably sophisticated civilization made up of more than 19 million people, suddenly collapse sometime during the 8th or 9th century?
Dozens of core urban areas such as Chichen Itza, Tikal, Ek Balam and Coba went from bustling cities to abandoned ruins, over the course of roughly one hundred years.
There’s still much speculation about the decline of the ancient Mayan cities. Many theories have been put forward, ranging from natural catastrophes (epidemic, earthquake, drought) to warfare, though nothing is definitive.
The Mayan did not cease to exist when their ancient cities went into decline. They live on today in the same areas their ancestors inhabited.
Although their culture has changed over time, many Mayans maintain their language and traditions.
Today, it’s estimated that about 6 million indigenous Mayans still speak Mayan languages.
Present-day Mayan religion is a colourful hybrid of Catholicism and ancient beliefs and rituals.The Mayan left behind an array of architecture and symbolic artwork demonstrating their prowess as builders and intellectuals.
And if you’re explorers like us, there are loads of archaeological sites, that you can spend days, weeks or months exploring.
…the likes of Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Coba, Tikal, Tulum, Teotichacan, Mitla, The Great Pyramid of Cholula.
I read somewhere in Mexico:
‘How can you explain the Unexplainable…?’
That’s how I felt about the Mayan Ruins of Central America.
Some things just can’t be explained…
If you come to Mexico and Central America don’t just go to the beach and drink cocktails…
Dig into a bit of local Mayan Culture, enjoy a Mayan Feast, savour the smell of burning Copal, indulge in a Shaman Blessing… and of course, visit some Ancient Ruins.
Read more here about the Mayan Civilization.