The ancient civilization of the Mayan people

The ancient civilization of the Mayan people

Archaeological excavations in the jungles of Mexico confirm the opinion of many historians that the Maya people created the only civilization in pre-Columbian America, which was developed writing, mathematical and astronomical system, art and architecture.

History of the Maya Nation

In Central America in the territories of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and in the southern Spanish-speaking country of Mexico, the ancient Maya existed more than 3,000 years ago.

Among the historians there is a version: in ancient times there was a civilization. For unknown reasons, this civilization died, leaving behind cultural monuments and artifacts, which indicate a high level of development.

It happened about a few thousand years BC. An interesting fact: this time corresponds to the biblical chronology associated with the Flood. If you consider this event, then we can assume that this civilization died completely in a large-scale flood.

Ancient Mayan civilization - Picture 2

History of the Maya Nation

Whence came the Maya people is still doggedly unknown, but on the basis of artifacts found during excavations, scientists believe that they appeared on the territory of the unknown civilization much later.

The Americanoid race (Indians) began to learn and use calendars, writing, constructions, and other objects of the past culture, and thus they managed to create a new Mayan civilization.

Around 850 A.D. the Maya began to leave their cities for unknown reasons. As a result, for more than 200 years, the high level of material and spiritual culture of the Maya began to gradually disappear forever.

When the first Spanish expedition landed on the shores of Central America in the early sixth century, their main goal was to destroy the civilization of the indigenous people. By this time the limestone settlements had become overgrown with impenetrable rainforests.

Beginning of the exploration of the monuments of the culture of the ancient civilization

Now on the Yucatan Peninsula, which separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea, lives more than 6 million descendants of the ancient Mayan people, who left many unexplained mysteries to the present time historians of XIX – XX centuries.

In 1839 the American explorer John Lloyd Stevens, along with the British archaeologist Frederick Catherwood were the first to discover the jungle city of Ushmal, Copan, Palenque and other ancient settlements.

Ancient civilization of the Maya - photo 3

Beginning of the exploration of the monuments of the culture of the ancient civilization

They described their discoveries in a book that became a bestseller in the scientific world, and after a while expeditions from different countries of Europe and America went to the peninsula.

Another sensation in the scientific world occurred at the end of the 19th century.

The second bishop of Yucatan, Diego de Landa Calderon, entered the history of the first explorers of the Mayan civilization as the author of the book “Report on the Affairs of the Yucatan”. The second bishop of the Yucatan, Diego de Landa Calderón, entered the history of the first explorers of the Maya civilization.

In addition to this information Calderon believed that at the bottom of the natural karst well, located in the city of Chichen Itza, there are a large number of various objects from the prosperity of the Maya civilization.

The founder of the Pathfinder Movement of North America American Ernest Thompson decided to check this statement and made a dive to the bottom of a vertical well, where in fact there were jewelry made by ancient goldsmiths of gold, copper, and jade.

The main discoveries by scientists from different countries took place in the XX century.

Ancient Civilization of the Maya Indian People - photo 4

Beginning of the exploration of the monuments of the culture of the ancient civilization

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Architectural construction at Chichen Itza

In the north of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula is the city of Chichen Itza, founded by the Mayans in the 6th century AD.

The main attraction of this ancient city, which name sounds like “the mouth of the well of the Itza tribe”, is the pyramid of Kukulcan.

The cult structure, built around the XII century, was dedicated to Kukulkan, the god of wind, water, and air. Ancient Indians deified this deity. The Maya believed that he taught them how to use the land to grow crops and to fish. In addition, thanks to him they invented the calendar and written signs – hieroglyphs.

Four staircases with railings, depicting the body of a snake, lead to the upper platform of the pyramid. On the days of the equinox the sun provides an interesting impression: the shadow cast by the stair parapet creates the appearance of a crawling snake. Since the god’s divine name is translated as “plumed serpent,” the Indians believed that during this period of the year Kukulkan leaves his burrow and descends to earth.

Scientists suggest that the construction of the 25-meter, 9-step pyramid took into account the regularities of the calendar and some astronomical phenomena.

Ancient Civilization of the Maya Indian People.

Architectural construction at Chichen Itza

Temple of inscriptions and the sarcophagus of Pacal

In the eastern part of the Mexican state of Chiapas, there are the surviving ruins of the city of Palenque, which has been protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1987.

Here, fans of the history of pre-Columbian civilizations of Central America pay special attention to the Temple of Inscriptions.

This religious structure is located on top of a 24-meter pyramid.

Name of the sanctuary gave the inscriptions located on three stone slabs, and contain 617 hieroglyphs. Modern scientists have been able to decipher only part of them.

Ancient Civilization of the Maya Indian People - Foto 6

Temple of inscriptions and the sarcophagus of Pacal

The temple was discovered by the Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruiz in 1949, who noticed one of the floor plates and decided to lift it. It turned out that it hid the entrance to an underground corridor, at the end of the tunnel was the burial room, which contained the sarcophagus of the ruler of the Maya Maya Kinicha-Hanaba-Pakal.

The tomb was carved by ancient stonecutters from a single piece of stone and weighs 15 tons. The tombstone, which weighs 5.5 tons, covers the cancer, with scenes of the resurrection and release of the ancient monarch from the realm of the dead.

The collected artifacts give scientists reason to believe that the Temple of Inscriptions was built by the ruler of the Bakal kingdom Kinich-Kan-Balam II, son of his father Pacal as a funerary structure.

The “Temple of the Seven Dolls”.

The ruins of the ancient settlement Tsibilchaltun are located at a distance of 17 km from the city of Merida.

The name of this archaeological site of the ancient Mayan civilization, founded in 300 B.C., translates as “the place with the writings on the stones.

The remains of Cibilchaltun were discovered among the impenetrable jungle in 1950. The most famous structure is considered to be the “Temple of the Seven Dolls,” named after the seven clay decorative figures that were discovered by Mexican archaeologists during excavations. These dolls were placed in a special hole and walled up in the floor of the temple. What function they served remains a mystery to this day.

Ancient Civilization of the Maya Indian People - Foto 7

The “Temple of the Seven Dolls”.

The Mystery of the Crystal Skull

The indigenous peoples of Central America have a legend, which states that at different points on the planet are under the protection of the servants of the deity 13 crystal bone skeletons of heads in the form of human skulls. They can look into the eye socket and not only see their interlocutor, but also communicate at a great distance.

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This myth was perceived by scholars as a genre of prosaic folklore of ancient Indians until the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1927 an expedition led by English archaeologist Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges was sent to Central America to search for Atlanteans – the inhabitants of Atlantis.

During excavations of the ancient city of Lubantun (now the port city of Belize), the researcher’s daughter discovered the first natural-sized rock crystal skull without a lower jaw on her 17th birthday.

Three months later, the missing part, which was attached by means of hinges to the skull, was found under the altar of one of the temples.

Ancient Civilization of the Maya Indian People - Foto 8

The Mystery of the Crystal Skull

Five years after his father’s death, the heiress Anna in 1964, handed the find to specialists of the American company in the field of information technology “Hewlett-Packard”.

Initially, the researchers determined that the artifact is made of solid rock crystal approximately 3,000 years ago and has no traces of polishing, which can achieve such a perfect polish.

Art historian and historian specializing in ancient artifacts, Frank Dordland drew attention to the complex system of lenses and prisms in the eye sockets of the skull, creating unusual optical effects.

Archaeologists from different countries in different parts of the Earth have found another 12 crystal skulls. Nine of the ancient finds were purchased by private collectors. The four remaining skulls are museum pieces in the United States, England, France and Mexico.

For what purpose were these artifacts made, how were they made without diamond tools and what they meant to their creators is considered one of the main mysteries of the history of the ancient Mayan civilization.

Ancient Civilization of the Mayan Indians.

The Mystery of the Crystal Skull

Interesting Facts

  1. There is a version of some scientists that the Mayan people migrated to the American continent from Siberia during the last ice age (30 million years ago). After some time their ancestors settled in the jungles of Central America.
  2. These people built cult constructions in the form of multi-step pyramids, which had their own features: four stairs led to the top. Each of them had 91 steps. The total number of stairs was 364. Together with the base of the temple, which was on the top of the pyramid, the number of days in the year is 365. Ancient architects used local limestone as a building material. All pyramids were red because they were covered with specially prepared substance.
  3. It remains a mystery how the scientists of this people carried out quite accurate astronomical studies, using only crossed sticks to fix the point of observation.
  4. Based on advances in astronomy, the Mayan clergy were able to unmistakably determine solar and lunar eclipses and record the data in the calendar they created.

Ancient Mayan Civilization - Photo 10

Interesting Facts

The story of the unique Mayan civilization: from its heyday to its decline

When the Spanish conquistadors led by Hernández de Córdoba arrived in the Yucatán peninsula in Central America at the beginning of the 16th century, they encountered the legendary Maya people. At that time, their civilization was already in serious decline and crisis. But this was not always the case.

Pre-classical and classical period

It is believed that the history of Maya civilization began in the third millennium BC. Traditionally, scientists have distinguished pre-classical, classical and post-classical period of its development.

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In the Pre-classic period (that is, until about 250 A.D.) the first city-states appeared on the Yucatan, the technology of slash-and-burn agriculture, the technology of creating fabrics, tools, implements, etc. were mastered. Examples of large cities of the Preclassic period include Nacbe and El Mirador. It was in El Mirador that the largest Mayan pyramid was discovered. Its height was 72 meters.

Maya pyramid ruins in El Mirador

Ruins of the Mayan pyramid in El Mirador

As for writing, it appeared with the Maya about 700 BC. e. In general, this people had one of the most advanced writing systems. The Maya left inscriptions everywhere, including on the walls of their buildings. These inscriptions later helped to shed light on many aspects of their lives.

In the Classic period, the Maya civilization was made up of many large and bustling cities, each ruled by its own ruler. The Maya culture at this time spread throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. It was also during this time that magnificent new cities sprang up – Coba, Chichen Itza, Ushmal, etc.

During the heyday of the Mayan cities, acropolises – ceremonial complexes tens of meters high, including pyramids, palaces and other objects – were built. And at the very top of the acropolis were necessarily built small square temples without windows. Some cities also had observatories – towers with places to observe other planets and stars.

Observatory in Chichen Itza (on the territory of modern Mexico)

The observatory at Chichen Itza (located in present-day Mexico)

Cities, temples, and large cultivated areas were connected by roads, the so-called sacbe. Sakbe were made of crushed stone, pebbles and limestone – that is, they were not just country roads, but something much more advanced and advanced.

Areas in which the Maya made significant progress

The Mayans managed to create a truly unique civilization. They did not know the wheel and did not know how to work iron. Nor did these Indians excel at making weapons. Over the centuries, their weapons had not changed much (and that is probably one of the reasons why the Europeans were stronger in the end). But that didn’t stop the Mayans from having a good understanding of mathematics, geometry and astronomy, and building high pyramids and temples. A significant element of all the buildings was the “Mayan vault” – the original arched narrowing of the roof, not found almost anywhere else.

The ancient Maya were also able to make complex hydraulic irrigation systems. Thanks to this, they grew useful crops on rather difficult soils in terms of farming.

The medicine of the ancient Maya was also well developed. They were cured by people who had undergone certain training. Local healers accurately identified many ailments (including asthma, tuberculosis, ulcers, etc.) and fought them with inhalations, potions made from natural ingredients of medicines.

The Maya had a detailed knowledge of human anatomy, which is why the local doctors were able to perform the most complex operations. Injured parts of the body or areas where tumors were developing were removed with knives, wounds were sewn up with a needle and hair, and substances with narcotic effects were used for anesthesia.

Mayan doctors had tools made of volcanic glass and stones at their disposal. By the way, not only medical, but many other tools and devices, the Mayans created from these materials. And some of them, according to modern scientists, were even more perfect than their European metal counterparts.

Mayan knives made of volcanic rocks

Mayan knives made of volcanic rocks

Mayan art in the classical period also amazed by its complexity, sophistication and elegance. It found expression in bas-reliefs, murals on walls, ceramics, sculptures. Works of art, left by the Maya, distinguishes gravitation to mythological themes, complex grotesque images. The key motifs are anthropomorphic deities, snakes and expressive masks.

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One of the masks made by ancient Maya

One of the masks created by the ancient Mayans

Calendar and the Mayan counting system

The calendar created by the Mayans is worthy of a separate conversation – it was really very intricate and long. The year, according to this calendar, was divided into eighteen months by twenty days. However, such concepts as “beginning of the year” or “end of the year”, the Mayans did not have – the Indians simply calculated the cycles and rhythms of the planets. Time for the Maya moved in a circle, everything was repeated over and over again. This amazingly accurate calendar also contained detailed information about the movements of celestial bodies.

And another fun fact about the Mayan calendar. Scientists in southeastern Mexico once found a stele left by the ancient Indians. According to the inscriptions on the stele, the Mayan calendar ended with the date December 21, 2012. Many people for some reason began to consider this date to be the date of the end of the world. In the end it was a farce – nothing special happened on December 21 or 22, 2012.

Mayan calendars were stone disks with signs and hieroglyphs on them

Mayan calendars were stone disks with signs and hieroglyphs engraved on them.

The fact that the Mayan year was divided into months of 20 days, is not accidental. The local counting system was precisely twenty-digit. When calculating the Indians of Central America (Mesoamerica) from ancient times used the fingers and toes at the same time. Each twenty was additionally divided into fives, which corresponded to the number of fingers.

For the convenience of calculations, the Maya even introduced the designation of zero. It was represented as a hollow shell from a snail (infinity was also expressed by the same symbol). Zero is indeed necessary in many mathematical calculations, but, for example, in ancient Greece they did not use this figure – they just had not thought of it.

Sacrifices and other cruel Mayan customs

The ancient Maya were indeed very active in the practice of human sacrifice – this is one of the most famous facts about this Indian civilization. They sacrificed people in truly barbaric ways, including ripping the heart out of their chests and burying them alive.

It was believed that the person who was chosen as a sacrifice was given the highest honor – he was given the status of a messenger to the deities. Mathematicians and astronomers made special calculations to know when was the best time for a sacrifice and who was best suited for the role. In this regard, the victims were often their own tribesmen, not the Aztecs or the Olmecs.

In the polytheistic Mayan religion, the gods were considered mortal beings. And this is proved by the images of child gods and elder gods left by the Indians. And we can conclude that the sacrifices were designed to extend the life of a particular god.

The Maya also believed that a person had to go through thirteen circles of trials before they could enter heaven. This way was considered very difficult, it was thought that not all souls could pass it to the end. However, women who died in childbirth, warriors who died in battle, and ritual victims went to the gods at once, passing all circles, according to the beliefs of the ancient Maya.

It was also believed that those who lost in a peculiar ball game also found themselves in a better world without unnecessary trials. This sport was a mixture of rugby, soccer and basketball. It was played by men wearing helmets and with elbow and knee protection. The aim of the game was very simple – it was necessary to throw a rubber ball into a hoop located at a height of six meters. You could only touch the ball with your shoulders, hips and feet. The losing team or a few of its members were put to death at the end of the game.

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This is what the Mayan stadium for the death ball game looks like today.

This is what a Mayan death-ball stadium looks like today.

Postclassic period

Around 850 A.D., the Maya began to leave their majestic cities, one by one, and the reasons for this phenomenon are still unclear. Sophisticated buildings and water systems began to fall into disrepair. After a while, the Maya basically stopped building new tall buildings, holding ceremonies and practicing astronomy.

In less than two centuries the greatness of the civilization largely waned. Some prosperous settlements remained, but the Maya were never destined to regain their former greatness. Thus, the civilization entered its post-classical period (987 – the end of the 16th century). This time was marked by the adoption of harsh new laws, new styles of art, the mixing of cultures, internecine wars and, finally, the arrival of the conquistadors.

Causes of the decline of civilization

The reasons why the Mayan civilization degenerated so quickly are still debated by researchers. All hypotheses about the actual disappearance of the Mayan civilization fall into two groups – ecological and non-ecological.

The ecological hypotheses are based on the following premise: the Maya struck a balance with the natural environment in which they lived. That is, the rapidly growing population faced a shortage of quality soil suitable for farming, as well as drought and a shortage of drinking water.

There are scientists who are very actively defending the version of a terrible drought that forced the Maya to leave the cities (in particular, the geologist Gerald Haug). And in early 2012, scientists from the University of Southampton published the results of their meticulous research, which also confirms this version. According to the study, the shortage of fresh water on the Yucatan may have become palpable with a 40 percent drop in rainfall (a drop which probably took place between 810 and 950 AD). This anomaly led to a shortage of drinking water, the Mayan way of life began to collapse and they left their cities in droves.

An unprecedented drought caused the collapse of the Mayan civilization - is one of the most popular scholarly hypotheses

An unprecedented drought caused the collapse of the Maya civilization – this is one of the most popular hypotheses among scientists.

Non-ecological hypotheses are hypotheses about internecine wars, conquests of other Indian tribes, epidemics, some social disasters. And, for example, the version of the Maya conquest is confirmed by some archaeological finds on the Yucatan. More specifically, artifacts have been found in Mayan settlements that belonged to the Toltecs, another people of Mesoamerica. Be that as it may, when the Spanish arrived in Yucatan in 1517, the Maya were already living in predominantly agricultural communities.

The war between the Spanish conquistadors and the Maya lasted more than 150 years

The war between the Spanish conquistadors and the Maya lasted more than 150 years

The conquistadors came with bad intentions, and on top of that they brought diseases from the Old World to America that the Maya had not known before (for example, smallpox and measles). As a result, by the end of the XVII century, the Maya were completely defeated – the last free Mayan city of Tayasal fell in 1697.

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