History About the Mayans
Meaning of Maya: Astronomers, mathematicians, agronomists, philosophers, artists, architects, sculptors and warriors – the Maya of old were a rich, complex society that continue to fascinate.
Their stunning accomplishments are still evident today: it was they who first cultivated chocolate, chilli peppers, vanilla, papayas and pineapples. The Maya built causeways and reservoirs, created great works of sculpture and art, carved fantastic jade masks and wove rich colorful textiles. They also developed sophisticated mathematical systems; complex, accurate calendars; and perfectly proportioned buildings of immense size and beauty. Much of this while Europe remained in the Dark Ages.
In the modern world, observers continue to comment that Maya culture will soon disappear. Roads and cars have made their world smaller; seaside resorts such as Cancun attract hoards of camera-clicking foreign daytrippers; and television brings cosmopolitan Mexican and North American programs into remote villages. But the Maya have always been resilient. Their history has reinforced a pattern of community-based culture – with pride and respect for tradition. Their communal society has adapted modern means to preserve the Maya culture and language. Besides, they’ve had nearly 475 years to practice survival skills under pressure – and even longer before that.
The rise of the first civilizations in Mesoamerica took place in what’s called the ‘Preclassic period’ (ca. 1500 B.C.-A.D. 250), with several different peoples in several different areas of Mexico and Central America – the Zapotec of Oaxaca, the Olmec on the Gulf coast and the Maya in the lowlands and highlands of Guatemala and Mexico, ideal crossroads on the huge land bridge between the Americas.
Powerful kings who were both rulers and high priests had direct responsibility for the ordered world of the Preclassic Maya. The success and power of their rule was in a direct relation to the kingdom’s military strength. Inter-city rivalries were common and, if defeated, the high-living royalty often met ignominious sacrificial ends.
By A.D. 400, complex writing and regional trade had developed and some impressive capital cities had been built. El Tigre, the largest single Maya temple ever built, was constructed at El Mirador, an important Preclassic city a few kilometers south of the Mexican border in the Pet‚n region of Guatemala. The Maya civilization waxed and waned during three periods archeologists have distinguished as Preclassic, Classic and Post Classic.
The end of the Preclassic period may have come about with the eruption of a volcano in 250 A.D. in El Salvador that spewed ash over much of the southern Maya area. Loss of agriculture and commerce in the south increased the importance of the lowlands of the Yucatan in the north, thus be getting new power bases and new glory days of Maya civilization.
The apex of Maya growth and prosperity occurred during the time A.D. 250-900. The Early Classic (A.D. 250-600) saw the rise of city states of Tikal and Calakmul – who struggled with each other for control of the lowlands. Calakmul eventually defeated Tikal but was unable to exert power over more territory, losing its chance to rule the world. The Early Classic period gradually slid into the Late Classic period (A.D. 600-800). The Classic age is considered to be the peak of Maya civilization with advanced building styles and carved stone records called stelae. Large ceremonial city centers were built that included massive stone pyramids, ballcourts and platform temples. Tikal reemerged as a powerful city of as many as 40, 000 people over six square miles – a population density comparable to an average city in modern Europe or America.