The mayan were a pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican civilization that existed from 2000 years before Christ until more or less 1697, occupying the territory of southwestern Mexico and northern Central America: the entire Yucatan Peninsula, the entirety of Guatemala and Belize, as well as a portion of Honduras and El Salvador.
Its presence among the American aboriginal cultures was highlighted due to its complex and advanced cultural systems, which included methods of glyphic writing (the only fully developed writing system in all of pre-Columbian America), art and architecture, mathematics (they were the first to use absolute zero) and astrology.
The big ones city-states Maya demonstrated important architectural capabilities despite the fact that they grew without prior design, around a ceremonial center that served as their axis. For example: Tikal, Izamal, Sayil. They were connected to each other by trading networks, which over the centuries gave rise to rival political nuclei that in turn led to numerous wars.
In their culture the hereditary and patriarchal monarchy, as well as human sacrifices, mummification, and ceremonial ball games. They had their own calendar system, which is still preserved. And although they were prone to recording their history and writing down their customs, most of their culture has been irretrievably lost as a result of the brutality of the Spanish conquest.
Even so, they remain contemporary traces of the Mayan languages and their forms of crafts in numerous communities of Gatemala and Chiapas, Mexico.
History of the Mayan civilization
The history of the Maya is studied based on four main periods, namely:
- Preclassic period (2000 BC-250 AD). This initial period takes place from the end of the archaic period, during which the Mayans established and developed agriculture, thus giving rise to civilization proper. This period in turn is divided into sub periods: Early Preclassic (2000-1000 BC), Middle Preclassic (1000-350 BC) and Late Preclassic (350 BC-250 AD), although the precision of these periods is in doubt. by numerous specialists.
- Classical period (250 AD-950 AD). Period of the flowering of the Mayan culture, in which the great Mayan cities prospered and a vigorous artistic and intellectual culture was exhibited. There was a political polarization around the cities of Tikal and Calakmul, which eventually led to a political collapse and abandonment of cities, as well as the end of numerous dynasties and the mobilization to the north. This period is also divided into the sub periods: Early Classic (250-550 AD), Late Classic (550-830 AD) and Terminal Classic (830-950 AD).
- Postclassic period (950-1539 AD). Divided in turn into an early postclassic (950-1200 AD) and a late postclassic (1200-1539 AD), this period is characterized by the fall of the great Mayan cities and the decline of their religion, giving rise to the emergence of new urban centers closer to the coast and water sources, to the detriment of the highlands. These new cities were organized around a more or less common council, despite the fact that at the time of first contact with the Spanish in 1511, it was a set of provinces with a common culture but a different socio-political order.
- Period of Spanish contact and conquest (1511-1697 AD). This period of conflict between the European invaders and the Mayan cultures extended throughout numerous wars and conquests of the cities of this civilization, weakened by internal conflict and urban displacement. After the fall of the Aztecs and the Quiché kingdom, the Mayans were subdued and exterminated by the conquerors, leaving little trace of their culture and customs. The last independent Mayan city, Nojpetén, fell to the hosts of Martín de Urzúa in 1697.
Main Mayan ceremonial centers
- Tikal. One of the largest and main urban centers of the Mayan civilization, which today continues as a fundamental archaeological site for scholars of this culture and heritage of humanity since 1979. Its Mayan name would have been Yux Mutul and it would have been the capital of one of the most powerful Mayan kingdoms, as opposed to the monarchy whose capital was Calakmul. It is possibly the best studied and most understood Mayan city in the world.
- Copan. Located in western Honduras in the department of the same name, a few kilometers from the border with Guatemala, this Mayan ceremonial center was once the capital of a powerful kingdom of the Classic Mayan period. His Mayan name was Oxwitik and his fall was framed in the fall of King Uaxaclajuun Ub’ahh K’awiil before the King of Quiriguá. Part of the archaeological site was eroded by the Copán River, which is why in 1980 the water was diverted to protect the site, declared a World Heritage Site in that same year by UNESCO.
- Palenque. Called in the Mayan language ‘Baak’, it was located in what is now the municipality of Chiapas, Mexico, near the Usumancita River. It was a Mayan city of medium size, but noted for its artistic and architectural heritage, which lasts until today. It is estimated that only 2% of the area of the ancient city is known, and that the rest is covered by jungle. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is today an important archaeological site.
- Izamal. His Mayan name, Itzmal, means “dew from the sky”, and today it is a Mexican city in which the three historical cultures of the region converge: pre-Columbian, colonial and contemporary Mexican. That is why it is known as “The city of the three cultures”. Located about 60km from Chichen-itzá, in its surroundings there are 5 Mayan pyramids.
- Dzibilchaltún. This Mayan name translates “place where the stone is inscribed” and designates an ancient Mayan ceremonial center, today an archaeological site, located in the homonymous National Park near the Mexican city of Mérida. The cenote Xlacah is located there, the most important in the area and which offered the Mayans up to 40 meters of water depth; as well as the Temple of the Seven Dolls, in which seven Mayan clay figurines and numerous implements of the time were found.
- Sayil. Located in the State of Yucatán, Mexico, this ancient center of a Mayan agricultural elite was established around 800 AD, in the late Classic sub period. The remains of the Sayil Palace remain, as well as the Pyramid of Chaac II and another 3.5 km of archaeological site.
- Ek balam. Also located in Yucatán, Mexico, its name means in Mayan “black jaguar” and since its inception in 300 BC it would become a very rich capital within a highly populated region, whose Mayan name was ‘Talol’, but there were been founded according to the scriptures by Éek’Báalam or Coch CalBalam. It features 45 period structures, including an acropolis, a circular building, a ball court, two twin pyramids, and an arch at the gate.
- Kabah. From the Mayan “hard hand”, Kabah was an important ceremonial center whose name is mentioned in the Mayan chronicles. It is also known as Kabahuacan or “Royal Serpent in hand.” With an area of 1.2 kmtwoThis archaeological area in Yucatan, Mexico, was abandoned by the Mayans (or at least no more ceremonial centers were made within it) several centuries before the Spanish conquest. A pedestrian path 18 km long and 5 m wide connected the site with the city of Uxmal.
- Uxmal. Mayan city of the classical period and today one of the three most important archaeological sites of this culture, along with Tikal and Chichen-itzá. Located in Yucatán, Mexico, it features Puuc-style buildings, as well as abundant Mayan architecture and religious art, such as masks of the god Chaac (of rain) and evidence of Nahua culture, such as images of Quetzalcoátl. In addition, there are the Pyramid of the Magician, with five levels, and the Governor’s Palace whose surface exceeds 1200mtwo.
- Chichen-Itza. Its name in Mayan translates “mouth of the well” and it is one of the main archaeological sites of the Mayan culture, located in Yucatan, Mexico. There are examples of imposing architecture with large temples, such as Kukulcán, a Mayan representation of Quetzalcoátl, the Toltec god. This shows that it was inhabited by various peoples throughout the ages, although its buildings come from the late Classic Mayan period. In 1988 it was declared a cultural heritage of humanity and in 2007 the temple of Kukulcán entered the New Seven Wonders of the Modern World.