Mayan civilization artifacts
Mayan ruins and sites marking the Maya’s fascinating ancient civilization and culture dot the Central America countryside in Belize, Mexico and Guatemala. While Mayan civilization and culture date back well into BC times, many Mayan ruins and sites were only recently discovered and have yet to be excavated. Exploring these beautiful, ancient cities and artifacts of the past makes for an exciting, memorable adventure and a great way to learn more about the culture and history of Mayan civilization. (Click on the image below to see a larger version.)
Great Mayan civilizations and more modest settlements ranged from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the north to Honduras in the south. In addition to constructing massive temple complexes, Mayan culture is known for having devised an uncannily accurate and complex calendar system, amassed considerable gold and wealth, and concocted a variety of medicinal treatments from their natural surroundings.
Contrary to what the general term “Mayan” might conjure up, Mayan peoples were not ethnically homogenous, but rather loosely related communities that were often defined by differences in ancestry, language dialects and geography. Mayan cities both cooperated and competed with one another. They formed alliances with fellow Mayan settlements and kingdoms to facilitate trade as well as fulfill their political and military ambitions.
Mayan faith and religion played a central role in organizing politics and culture in Mayan civilization. The king, or high lord, and royal family occupied the top rung of a strict political hierarchy, followed by an elite tier of priests, warriors and scribes. The next tier of Mayan artisans and traders were appreciated for their economic value. Subsistence farmers and servants made up the bottom rung of Mayan civilization.
The high lord of the Mayan kingdom was thought to hold sway with the gods of the underworld, who would assume the earthly form of a jaguar.
The amazing, complex Mayan calendar served as an incredibly accurate device for measuring time as well as a tool for interpreting the order of the universe.
Still used today in some places, the ancient Mayan system of time measurement is actually three calendars in one. The first calendar, known as the Tzolkin, refers to a period of 260 days likely based on the nine month birth period. The second calendar, called the Haab, is a solar year of 365 days. Together, the Tzolkin and Haab form the third calendar known as the Calendar Round, referring to a period of 52 solar years.
The Mayan solar calendar is astoundingly accurate, even more so than the modern calendar we use today. The pictures below show the Mayan Sacred Round Calendar (Tzolkin, left) and Solar Round Calendar (Haab, right).
The so-called Mayan 2012 end of the world or “doomsday” prediction might be the most intriguing aspect of the Mayan calendar today. Based on their ancient calendar system, Mayans believed the “Great Cycle of the present age” would last for 13 backtun cycles of 144, 000 days and come to an end on December 23, 2012. This calculation has led some people to fear that the Mayan “doomsday prediction” actually means civilization as we know it will come to some kind of cataclysmic end next year. While debating the likelihood of this prophecy can make for interesting conversation, Maya people saw the world as undergoing recurring cycles of death and rebirth, so that the end of the current calendar cycle also marks the start of the next one rather than an onslaught of the apocalypse.
Mayan culture made adept use of the natural environment in Central America to maintain health and treat illnesses. Traditional Mayan medicine is said to employ native plants to treat malaria and manage diabetes, among many other uses.
Mayan civilization and culture flourished for thousands of years until roughly 1500, about the time that the Spanish set about exploring and conquering the New World. A combination of Spanish military might and the introduction of foreign pathogens from the Old World that couldn’t be tamed by Mayan medicine is thought to have hastened the somewhat mysterious downfall and large-scale disappearance of ancient Mayan civilization.
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