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The Maya is perhaps the most famous civilization in Mesoamerica, famous for its writing, architecture, mathematics, astrology, and generally rich culture. What is only the Mayan calendar, which, with its last date, brought many people to panic. At the same time, the Maya is one of the most mysterious civilizations. For example, its origin is still not clear. However, in recent years, scientists have managed to uncover many of the secrets of this civilization. Therefore, we propose further to get acquainted in more detail with all the facts known to date about how it arose, what achievements it achieved, and also how and why it fell into decay.
How and when did the Maya civilization begin?
As we have said, the origin of the Mayan culture is not fully known to scientists. It is believed that it arose between 7000 BC and 2000 BC. During this period, hunter-gatherers began to gradually abandon their traditional trade, and instead establish permanent settlements.
As shown by recent research published in the journal Nature, the first settlers came from South America. Presumably their staple food was corn, which they were growing as early as 4000 BC. According to scientists, it was corn that gave impetus to the development of the Mayan civilization.
How did the Mayan culture develop?
The Maya learned not only to grow corn, but also to prepare it for consumption through nixtamalization. This is a rather complex process that consists of several stages – first, the corn is dried, then soaked, and then cooked in an alkaline solution. As a result, it becomes soft and edible. Also, farmers grew some other vegetables, such as zucchini, beans, etc.
According to some scholars, the Maya developed along with the neighboring Olmec civilization, which may have been one of the most advanced at that time. According to a number of experts, it was after close contact with the Olmecs that the Maya began to build ritual complexes, some of which have survived to this day. In particular, Aguada Phoenix, the largest and oldest structure of the Mayan civilization, was built during this period.
Having adopted much from the culture of the Olmecs, the Mayans at some point began to actively build cities around their territories. In the period from 1500 to 200 BC, the tribe developed very quickly. The Indians achieved success in agriculture, improved cities, built their society and created the foundations of complex trading networks. At the same time, they mastered effective methods of water purification, created a written language, developed sports and military art.
Since the Maya were farmers, for a long time it was believed that these people were quite peaceful. This idea is displayed in literature and cinema. However, as the latest study showed, the Maya were quite warlike and cruel towards their enemies.
One of the most famous achievements of the ancient Indians is, of course, the Mayan calendar. It included three dating systems – one for the gods, another for civil life, and a third astronomical. As a rule, when they talk about the Mayan calendar, I mean the astronomical calendar, which is also called the long one. According to it, mankind was created on August 11, 3114 BC.
The new cycle of this calendar began on December 21, 2012. This gave rise to the myth that this date is the last day of mankind. Moreover, this myth was so popular that many people were seriously preparing for the end of the world. But, as you know, it never came.
The peak of the development of the Maya civilization
The Maya civilization flourished between 200 and 900 AD. This is clearly visible even in architecture. The Maya built more advanced ritual structures that looked like pyramids, as well as stately buildings that look like palaces. Although, it is not clear what these buildings were used for – they served as a place of residence for the elite of society or performed another task.
Moreover, during this period, the Maya built roads that connected cities. One of them is 100 kilometers long and is considered an engineering marvel. Judge for yourself – the road was made of stone and covered with plaster. But most importantly, it glowed in the dark.
During their dawn, the Maya inhabited central America. They built a number of gigantic cities for those times, such as Palenque, Chichen Itza, Copan, Calakmul and Tikal. For example, the population of Tikal was more than 100 thousand people. Although, later the Indians had to leave this city because of the poisoned water, which we talked about earlier.
Political structure and religion
The Maya were not an empire or a single state. Instead, they built autonomous cities, that is, each city was a separate state with its own ruler. Therefore, in the history of cities there were both periods of peaceful coexistence and struggle for power. Some villages, for example, Hoya de Seren, were generally ruled collectively, and not by one ruler.
The Maya were a deeply religious society, like many other civilizations of that time. Therefore, religion is reflected in architecture and art. The main deity of the Maya was Hun Hunahpu, the god of corn. According to Mayan beliefs, deities created people first from mud, then from wood, and then from corn.
The Maya practiced various rituals to worship their deities, among which were very cruel ones – bloodletting and even human sacrifice. Even the sport of the Maya was very peculiar. After the game, reminiscent of football, the losers were sacrificed to the sun and moon gods. According to the myths of the Indians, the gods also played this game.
I must say that the Maya had a lot of various cruel rituals. Not so long ago, archaeologists discovered a flooded boat. According to experts, it was also used not at all for catching fish.
How did the Maya civilization die?
Most Maya centers began to decline in the 9th and 10th centuries AD. The reason is largely related to the political structure. Relations between the cities deteriorated, as a result of which trade ceased, exhausting and bloody wars were regularly waged.
Note that, there is no unified theory of the death of civilization. According to one of the main hypotheses, the main reason is severe drought, as well as the destruction of forests by the Indians. Therefore, the once populous and developed urban centers have turned into abandoned wastelands. One part of the people simply died, while the other occupied the fertile lands in the south.
Also, European colonialists in the 1500s also contributed to the fall of the Mayan civilization. But, by the time Spain took over the lands of the Indians, most of the major Mayan settlements were already empty. However, contrary to popular belief, the Maya themselves have not disappeared to this day. Only their once mighty civilization collapsed. More than six million descendants of this people live in modern Central America. Moreover, they even speak the ancient languages of their ancestors.
In addition to more than 30 ancient languages, the descendants of the tribe managed to preserve many traditions, including religious, agricultural and land management. Yes, the resilience of the Mayan culture cannot be taken away. Neither wars, nor natural disasters, nor European civilization on the continent destroyed it.