Sunday, 23 October 2011
CASE 355 - Mayans
The Mayans created a great civilisation in parts of what are now Mexico and Honduras and in Guatamala. The ancestors of the Mayans were hunters but about 2,500 BC they adopted farming as a way of life. In the years from 300 BC to 250 AD organised Mayan kingdoms emerged. Then from 250 AD to 600 AD an advanced civilisation emerged. The Mayans invented writing and they made great advances in astronomy and mathematics. Mayan civilsation was at its peak from 600 AD to 900 AD. However after 900 AD it declined. In the central rain forest cities were abandoned. We are not sure why. Perhaps there were ecological changes and famines occured. Or perhaps warfare between the different Mayan kingdoms caused disaster. At any rate in the far north and south people continued to live in cities. Mayan civilisation did not die completely. Then in the 1520s Spanish conquistadors invaded and conquered the Mayans. However the descendants of the Mayans continue to live on today.
There was no single Mayan state. Instead there was a people with a single culture and religion divided into many city states. (Areas of countryside ruled by a city). Each city state or kingdom was ruled by an autocrat (a man with absolute power). However, although although they had unlimited power Mayan rulers usually had a council of important men to advise them. Warfare between Mayan kingdoms was common. In the centre of each Mayan city was an area of palaces, pyramid temples (some of them 70 metres high) and squares, where religious ceremonies were held. In the squares were stelae (upright stones) which were carved with the dates of important ceremonies and events. Ordinary people lived in the surrounding houses. Most of the Mayans lived in the countryside but many cities were large. Some had populations of 45,000.
Below the rulers were the nobles and priests. Below them were freemen, craftsmen and farmers. Below them were slaves who did all the hardest work. The Mayans did not have animals for carrying loads. All goods were carried by human beings. The Mayans did not have metal tools. All their weapons and tools were made from wood and stone. However the Mayans invented a system of writing using pictures to represent sounds. Writing was painted onto books made from fig tree bark. It was also painted on pottery. Unfortunately the Spaniards burned many Mayan books so little is known of their history.
The Mayans also wrote numbers and they had a symbol for zero, which was very unusual among ancient civilisations. The Mayans were excellent astronomers and they could predict eclipses. There is a lot of theories, conspiracies about what the mayans predicted such as the end of the long count calender ending on 21st December 2012, some believe it is the end of the world, some a new start and many other ideas.
The Maya civilization extended throughout the present-day southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and the Yucatán Peninsula states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatán. The Maya area also extended throughout the northern Central American region, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, Northern El Salvador and western Honduras.
The Maya area is generally divided into three loosely defined zones: the southern Maya highlands, the central lowlands, and the northern lowlands. The southern Maya highlands include all of elevated terrain in Guatemala and the Chiapas highlands. The southern lowlands lie just north of the highlands, and incorporate the Mexican states of Campeche and Quintana Roo and northern Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. The northern lowlands cover the remainder of the Yucatán Peninsula, including the Puuc hills.