The Ancient Maya

The Maya of Mesoamerica, along with the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru, made up the high civilizations of the American Indians at the time of the Spanish conquest. Both the Aztecs and the Incas were late civilizations, between 1300-1533 AD, but the Maya of the Yucatan and Guatemala exhibited a cultural continuity spanning more than 2,000 years, 1000 BC-AD 1542. Many aspects of this culture continue yet today. The Ancient Maya in their time had actually refined writing. They had an extensive written language, which was both phonetic as well as ideographic.

One of only five ndependently created writing systems in human history. Maya words were in hieroglyphs, each picture with its own meaning. Unlike other ancient Central American civilizations, the Maya could write in words, sentences, and even stories. Arranging several pictures together in a logical form would create a story. The Maya covered their cities and buildings with hieroglyphs carved into the stone. Most of the Maya could read some hieroglyphs, but the priests and nobles were the only people who actually had knowledge of the entire language.

The Maya would also use quills made of turkey feathers to write in books made f soft bark taken from a type of fig tree. Religion was the center of the Mayan life. Mayans believed that there were two levels of the world. The first level was the physical world and the second was the spiritual world, which consisted of the old dead ancestors, gods, and other supernatural creatures. The Mayan kings and spiritual leaders would tell the lower levels of the society what would please the gods. The gods were modeled after animals for sacrificial purposes and religious ceremonies. The ancient Maya had many beliefs.

They had possessed an in depth understanding of astronomy, engineering, and athematics. The Maya believed that the Sun, Moon, and other planets, had been journeys of the gods. The Mayan priests studied their measurement of time. The Maya had a calendar with 18 months each containing 20 days, plus 5 unlucky days that made up the Mayan year. They also had a religious calendar that had 260 days in it. Each day was given a name and a number. They believed that each day was a god that carried the weight of the day on its back. The Mayan civilization in all stages has been based on agriculture.

Indian corn or maize was domesticated from a wild grass in central Mexico about 7,000 years ago and ustained most sedentary Indian civilizations from that time. In the humid areas, a surplus of water and rapid growth of trees and vines encouraged the slash-and-burn farming method. The farmer cleared the cornfield by cutting bushes and girdling the trees, usually near the end of the rainy season, allowing the piled brush to dry under the hot sun of the dry season. It is known that the Mayas enjoyed chocolate. They had it in many forms from a frothy drink to a pulpy mush. The Mayas referred to chocolate as “The Drink of the Gods. They had other food such as cornmeal, aize, black beans, roasted meat, rabbit stew, turkey and other meats.

Many people chewed of the leaves of the sapodilla tree as a gum-like substance. The Mayan culture had many arts, such as dance, music and clothing. They had more than 5,000 dances and loved music. Dancing was a huge part of religious ceremonies. Musicians played wooden flutes and trumpets made of wood, seashells, or clay, and drums made from turtle shells. For clothing the men would have worn an ex (pronounced eh-sh) which is a loincloth. The women would wear loose sack-like dresses.

The clothes of the nobles and priests were made up of finer aterials and had many shells and beads on them. For ceremonies they would wear beautiful headdresses for religious purposes. As for beauty, the Mayans had a sense of beauty that would be seen as hideous in our present society. They practiced skull deformation by tying boards to the forehead of newborn children. They also had filed their teeth down to a point and then placed jade into the holes. The Maya had also traded their possessions for many things such as gold, copper, jade, cotton, salt, feathers, and cacao. These are all examples of art to the Maya.

The Maya were an incredible civilization. Nobody knows exactly why the empire had fallen. Maybe it was when the peasants got sick of the priests telling them what to do and had abandoned villages, causing the collapse. At any rate, there were many interesting facts that were not covered here. Here now are a few examples. During droughts, the Mayans would eat pets to survive, and the Maya were the first people in the New World to keep historical records, and that a law stated that Mayan men would have to marry by the time that they were 20. The women would also had to be wed at a young age, usually around the age of 16.

There are many wonderful facts about the Maya culture because of the time that they were around was quite long. As you see, I highlighted many facts about the Maya, including their writing, beliefs, religion, agriculture, arts, and other interesting facts. The Maya were an interesting civilization and continue to exhibit their strange but wonderful beliefs yet today. The mayan people had accomplished many things that few other ancient civiliations have accomplished, including their ablility to write, have a good comprehension of astronomy, and still survive the changing world for many years.

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