Mayans

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The Mayans were one of the first civilizations in the Americas. They thrived in southern Mexico and Central America from A.D. 300 to A.D 900.
The Maya region


>== Essential Question == How has the Ancient Mayan Civilization impacted modern life?

Summary of Research

The Mayans were an interesting civilization that were highly advanced for their early time period. The major city of the Maya was Tikal, located in present day Guatemala, and it was home to about 100,000 people. The Mayan religion was polytheistic and they were strong believers in afterlife. Also, they performed ceremonies at precise moments to suit the gods. The Maya produced unique art and recognizable architecture. They built enormous pyramids and temples. The Mayans also developed a hieroglyphic writing system with complex design. During their "Golden Age", the Maya made several significant advances, such as a unique farming method and a 365-day calendar. The Maya's amazing flourishment came to an end in A.D. 900, when the civilization suddenly abandoned their thriving cities.


Content

Intro

The Mayans were an early civilization that flourished for 600 years (A.D.300-A.D.900) in the Yucatán and Central America. Their culture was influenced by the Olmecs, another early civilization in the Americas.
North Acropolis, Tikal, Guatemala

Cities

Tikal, which was located in present day Guatemala, was the largest of all the Mayan cities. The city was home to approximately 100,000 people. Tikal contained towering pyramids, huge palaces, and giant stone pillars decorated with intricate carvings. The pyramids were the tallest structures in the Americas all the way up until 1903, when New York City built the Flatiron Building. Tikal and other major Mayan cities thrived with wealth because of trade. The impressive road system enabled traders to distribute goods throughout Middle America. They traded goods such as honey, cocoa, cotton cloth, and feathers.


Religion

Chaac, the god of Rain and thunder

The religion of the Ancient Maya revolves around time and universal functions and cycles. The Mayans discovered both a 260-day sacred calendar and a 365-day ceremonial calendar. Their religious ceremonies involved a combination of dancing, dramatic acting, competition, prayer, and sacrifice. In the Mayan religion, gods needed sustenance in order to perform their works. Thus, the Mayan people performed sacrifices to satisfy the gods' needs. Although sacrifices sometimes involved harvest, Mayan sacrifices usually involved some type of human sacrifice. Most human sacrifices involved the giving of blood. A victim was forced to sacrifice their blood by puncturing the skin of different body parts. The higher the sacrifice's position in society, the more blood the victim was expected to give. In some cases, the Mayan people even went to the extreme extent of sacrificing a living heart. During these ceremonies, the victim was bound at the top of a pyramid or platform. An expert in the field then slit the skin beneath the ribcage and pulled out the heart with his bare hands. Finally, the heart was burned in favor of the gods.

The Mayan religion stated that the world was created five times and obliterated four times. Mayan gods were usually represented with reptilian features. The Mayans were strong believers in afterlife; however, they believed heaven served only for people that were hanged or sacrificed and stillbirths. All the rest served the Lords of Death in hell.


Social Classes

Each Mayan city had its own ruling chief. He was surrounded by nobles who served as military leaders and officials who managed public works, collected taxes and enforced laws. Rulers were usually men, but Mayan records and carvings showed that women sometimes governed. Priests held great power because only they could conduct the elaborate ceremonies needed to ensure good harvests and success in war.

Most Mayas were farmers, who grew corn, beans, and squash. Men usually cultivated the crops, while the women produced the food. To support the cities, farmers paid taxes in food and helped build the temples.


Arts & Architecture

Mayan vase

The Mayans expressed their culture artistically. Mayan art has been described as some of the richest art of the New World. The Mayans are known for their distinctive style, which contains an outstanding intricacy of patterns and varying media expressions. The majority of Maya art was created in order to appease their gods. Maya art usually portrays gods, rulers, heroes, religious scenes, and, on rare occasions, daily life. Maya art was made up of paintings, carvings, models, and figurines. Most Maya art was organized by kings and rulers to commemorate themselves and guarantee their place in Mayan history. The Mayan works recreate the history of their people.

The architecture of the Ancient Maya is a highly recognizable feature of the ancient world. Mayan architecture was a composite of pyramids, temples, houses, and town plazas. The Mayans are best known for their famous, stepped pyramids. Each pyramid was dedicated to a divine being of the Mayan religion. Mayans also built numerous temples and other buildings due to an abundance of flint and limestone, which produces cement. Small structures on the outskirts of cities served as the homes of the common people, and causeways linked the huge, numerous town plazas throughout the Mayan civilization.


Public Works

A Maya temple at Tikal

The most notable works of the Maya include palaces and pyramids & temples. Palaces were large and often highly decorated, and usually sat close to the center of a city and housed the population's elite. Any exceedingly large royal palace, or one consisting of many chambers on different levels might be referred to as an acropolis. However, often these were one-story and consisted of many small chambers and typically at least one interior courtyard; these structures appear to take into account the needed functionality required of a residence, as well as the decoration required for their inhabitants stature.

Often the most important religious temples sat atop the towering Maya pyramids, presumably as the closest place to the heavens. While recent discoveries point toward the extensive use of pyramids as tombs, the temples themselves seem to rarely, if ever, contain burials. Residing atop the pyramids, some of over two-hundred feet, such as that at El Mirador, the temples were impressive and decorated structures themselves. Commonly topped with a roof comb, or superficial grandiose wall, these temples might have served as a type of propaganda. As they were often the only structure in a Maya city to exceed the height of the surrounding jungle, the roof combs atop the temples were often carved with representations of rulers that could be seen from vast distances.


Writing

The Mayans writing system involved a system of heiroglyphics. The Mayans intricate design was like no other in the entire world. It has recently been discovered that the Mayan glyphs contain symbols that represent the phonetic signs. Mayan writing contains almost 800 symbols, and each symbol stands for a syllable.

Mayan numerals

Advances

The Mayan society made significant advances for their time period. Their most impressive feat was their clever farming method. Mayan farmers cleared the dense rain forests and then built raised fields that caught and held rain water. They also built channels that could be opened to drain excess water. This complex system produced enough crops to support the rapidly growing cities.

Their heiroglyphic writing system was another advancement that allowed Mayan scribes to record history. Also, Mayan priests needed to measure time accurately in order to hold ceremonies at the correct moment. Thus, priests became expert mathemiticians and astronomers. They developed an accurate 365-day solar calendar, as well as a 260-day calendar based on the orbit of planet Venus. Mayan priests also developed a numbering system and understood the concept of zero.


Decline

About A.D. 900, the Mayas abandoned their cities, leaving them to be devoured by the jungle. These lost Mayan cities were just recently rediscovered. It is still unclear why the Mayan civilization declined. Frequent warfare and overfarming because of overpopulation both may have possibly played factors. Another theory for the decline is peasant revolts sparked by heavy taxes. Still, remnants of Mayan culture have survived. Today, milliions of people in Guatemala and southern Mexico speak Mayan languages and are descendants of the builders of this early American civilization.


Analysis

The Mayans were an extremely advanced civilization given their early time period. They were especially gifted thinkers. Their religion required ceremonies to be held at exact times in order to appease the gods. Thus, the Mayans carefully studied mathematics and astronomy to know when to hold the ceremonies. The Mayans created a counting system involving zero, and they also developed an accurate 365-day solar calendar based off of their studies of the skies. The Maya region, naturally, was not suitable for farming, but the Mayans changed that. They cleared the land and invented a suitable farming method. This Mayans' ability to think through their problems and adhere to their needs is what enabled this early civiliztion to flourish.


Conclusion

After researching the Maya, one can conclude that they have significantly impacted today's society. First of all, the Mayans were the creators of one of the first, accurate 365-day solar calendar, similar to the one we use today. Also, the Mayans were outstanding mathematicians and astronomers. They developed a counting system that involved the concept of zero. Lastly, the Mayans were able to adapt their environment to suit their farming needs. All in all, the Mayans were great thinkers, and they have changed the way we think today.


References

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Longhena, Maria. Maya Script: a Civilization and Its Writing. New York, NY: Abbeville P, 2006.

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All pictures retrieved from "Chaac" and "Maya Civilization" Wikipedia pages.