Mayan Civilization

Mayan Civilization

INTRODUCTION

The Mayan Civilization was an Ancient

Native American civilization that grew to be one of the most advanced civilizations
in the Americas. The people known as the Maya lived in the region
that is now eastern and southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador,
and western Honduras. The Maya built massive stone pyramids, temples,
and sculpture and accomplished complex achievements in mathematics and
astronomy, which were recorded in hieroglyphs.

After 900 the Maya mysteriously disappeared
from the southern lowlands of Guatemala. They later reappeared in the north
on the Yucatán Peninsula and continued to dominate the area until
the Spanish conquest. Descendants of the Maya still form a large part of
the population of the region. Although many have acquired Spanish ways,
a significant number of modern Maya maintain ancient ethnic customs.

PRE-CLASSIC PERIOD

The Pre-classic period is the span of
time in which the foundation of the more modern Mayan civilization was
formed. The people went through huge developments in society and
built up strength.

Early Mayans were farmers and helped the
community in keeping up the fields. They first used sticks to punch
holes in the ground, but later, assumed more advanced farming techniques.

Their main crops included maize (corn), beans, squash, avocados, chili
peppers, pineapples, papayas, and cacao, which was made into a chocolate
drink with water and hot chilies. Hunting and fishing were also a
source of food for the early Mayans. They often hunted rabbits, deer,
and turkeys, which were made into stews. When they were not hunting,
fishing, or working in the fields, Mayan men and women took part in crafting
useful items, such as stone tools, clay figurines, jade carvings, ropes,
baskets, and mats. Women specialized in making clothing, such as
ponchos, loincloths, and skirts.

Like other ancient farming peoples, the
early Maya worshipped agricultural gods, such as the rain god and, later,
the corn god. Eventually they developed the belief that gods controlled
events in each day, month, and year, and that they had to make offerings
to win the gods’ favor. Maya astronomers observed the movements of the
sun, moon, and planets, made astronomical calculations, and devised almanacs.

The astronomers’ observations were used to divine auspicious moments for
many different kinds of activity, from farming to warfare.

Rulers and nobles directed the commoners
in building major settlements. Pyramid-shaped mounds of rubble topped with
altars or thatched temples sat in the center of these settlements, and
priests performed sacrifices to the gods on them. As the Pre-classic period
progressed, the Maya increasingly used stone in building. Both nobles and
commoners lived in extended family compounds.

During the Pre-classic period the basic
patterns of ancient Maya life were established. However, the period was
not simply a rehearsal for the Classic period but a time of spectacular
achievements.

CLASSIC PERIOD

Classic Maya civilization became more
complex as the population increased and centers in the highlands and the
lowlands engaged in both cooperation and competition with each other. Trade
and warfare were very important to cultural growth and development. Societies
became more complex, with distinct social classes developing.

Under the direction of their kings, who
also performed as priests, the centers of the lowland Maya became densely
populated jungle cities with vast stone and masonry temple and palace complexes.

During the Classic period, warfare was conducted on a fairly limited, primarily
ceremonial scale. Maya rulers, who were often depicted on carved stone
monuments, carrying weapons, attempted to capture and sacrifice one another
for ritual and political purposes. The rulers often destroyed parts of
some cities, but the destruction was directed mostly at temples in the
ceremonial precincts; it had little or no impact on the economy or population
of a city as a whole. Some city-states did occasionally conquer others,
but this was not a common occurrence until very late in the Classic period
when lowland civilization had begun to disintegrate. Until that time, the
most common pattern of Maya warfare seems to have consisted of raids employing
rapid attacks and retreats by relatively small numbers of warriors, most
of who were probably nobles.

Lowland Maya centers were true cities with
large resident populations of commoners who sustained the ruling elites
through payments of tribute in goods and labor. They built temples, palaces,
courtyards, water reservoirs, and causeways. Sculptors carved stelae, which
recorded information about the rulers, their family and political histories,
and often included exaggerated
statements about their conquests
of other city-states.

RELIGION

Mayan religion consisted of a wide range
of diverse and varied supernatural beings or deities. They considered

Hunab Ku to be the chief god and creator of the world, followed by other
varied gods, including Itzamna, the lord of the heavens; Yum Kaax, the
god of maize; and the four