Brief History Of The Mayan Civilization Research Paper

Length: 6 pages Sources: 5 Subject: Literature - Latin-American Type: Research Paper Paper: #87821864 Related Topics: Guatemala, Costa Rica, Rain Forest, Ancient Civilizations
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A Brief History of the Mayan Civilization

The Maya are a group of people of southern Mexico and northern Central America with some three thousand years of loaded history. The Maya were a division of the Mesoamerican Pre-Columbian civilizations. Dissimilar to popular belief, the Maya people never vanished completely, there are millions that still live in the area, and a lot of them still speak one of the many Maya languages (A Brief History of the Mayan Civilization, 2011). The Maya are perhaps the most well-known of the traditional civilizations of Mesoamerica. Mayan history began in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., Mayan history grew to fame around A.D. 250 in contemporary southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, El Salvador, and northern Belize (Mayan History, n.d.).

Building on the innate inventions and thoughts of previous civilizations such as the Olmec, the Maya advanced astronomy, calendrical systems and hieroglyphic writing. The Maya are well-known for complicated and extremely ornamented ceremonial architecture, comprising temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories, all constructed without metal apparatus. Mayan history demonstrates that they were also accomplished farmers, clearing large pieces of tropical rain forest and, where groundwater was scarce, constructing large underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater. The Maya were similarly accomplished as weavers and potters, and cleared paths through jungles and swamps to encourage far-reaching trade networks with far-away peoples (Mayan History, n.d.).

Dissimilar from the cultures of the Valley of Mexico, the only era in which the urban centers were significant to the Mayas was throughout the Classic era from 300 to 900 AD. The culture of the Mayas, nevertheless, did not change much from the classic era to the modern era, for Maya culture was mostly tribal and rural all during the Classic era. What differentiates Classic from post-Classic Maya culture was the significance of urban centers and their arrangements in the spiritual life of the Mayas and the degree of educated culture (Mayan History, n.d.).

The Mayas were in no way a true urban civilization. Their urban centers were nearly completely used as spiritual centers for the rural population adjacent to them. Consequently, the turn down of the urban centers after 900 AD did not entail colossal social change so much as spiritual change. It is thought by some scholars that the desertion of the cities was mainly due to religious converting from the north. Nonetheless, the Classic era saw an outburst of cultural inspiration all throughout the area occupied by the Mayan tribes. They got a lot of cultural structures from the north, but also formulated a lot of cultural advances that intensely prejudiced all succeeding cultures all through Mesoamerica. Much of Maya culture, but especially the spiritual thinking of time, is still a very important feature of Native American life in Guatemala and Honduras today (Mayan History, n.d.).

In regards to the Early Classic era, there is little proof found of Mayans in the Northern region, in the Yucatan. There are a few secluded sites that are linked to that era, but they are more strongly linked stylistically with the Teotihuacan culture from the northern region near the present day Mexico City. That culture experienced a fall down at just about 600 AD for unidentified causes. That fall down ended their pressure in the Mayan areas, and marks the division between the Early and the Late Classic eras. In the Late Classic era the Mayan civilization thrived and attained its utmost heights (Periods in Maya Civilization, 2011).

In the Terminal Classic era, the Maya cities in the Central area suffered fall down. The crest of Maya culture moved to the north, to the Puuc Hills, centered at Uxmal. The Puuc architectural style is defined by different construction styles. The pressure of Puuc style architecture at Chichen Itza is easily seen in the older southern section, in the Nunnery Annex, the Iglesia and other small buildings in this region. Some Puuc style frontages can be seen in the older buildings uncovered where the external building had dropped away. The inside temple in El Castillo is also nearly pure Puuc Mayan. Only a hundred years after the fall down of the central Mayan cities, the cities in the Puuc hills also buckled, ending the Classic period (Periods in Maya Civilization, 2011).

The Post-Classic era is distinguished by the power of the Yucatan by the Toltec culture of central Mexico. This military culture brought the cult of Quetzelcoatl,...


They account for the beginning of the Chacmool figures into the temples and the mixture of styles seen at Chichen Itza. The Eagles and the Jaguars, the skulls on the Tzompantli, the warrior refiefs on the columns at the Temple of the Warriors are all examples of this new pressure in the culture (Periods in Maya Civilization, 2011).

The Mayan culture should not be considered as a monumental state. By the time the Spanish arrived, there were at least sixteen rival states dwelling in the Yucatan peninsula. The main cities of that era were selected as centers by the Spanish who took them apart and used the stones to construct their own cities, just as they destroyed the history of the culture by obliterating the delicate bark paper books that recorded their history and mounted up knowledge. "Currently there are only four of these books known to have survived the invasion: the Dresden codex, in which the great astronomical tables recording the positions of Venus and the eclipse predictions were recorded, the more recently uncovered Grolier codex, also containing astronomical calculations, the Madrid and Paris codices are much more fragmentary" (Periods in Maya Civilization, 2011).

Mayan society was vivacious, but it could also be vicious. It was severely hierarchical and intensely religious. People were sacrificed to conciliate the gods. The selected also tortured themselves. Male Maya rulers punctured the foreskins of their penises and the women their tongues, it appears that in the hope of providing sustenance for the gods who required human blood. In the ninth century, the Maya world was upturned. A lot of the great centers like Tikal were abandoned. The holy temples and palaces for a short time became home to a few squatters, who left refuse in the once immaculate buildings. When they too left, Tikal was deserted evermore, and the Mayan civilisation never improved. Only a portion of the Maya people endured to face the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century (Cecil, 2011).

The Spanish began their invasion of the Maya lands in the 1520's. A small number of Maya states presented long violent resistance. The last Maya city state was not restrained by Spanish establishment until 1697. The Spanish American Colonies were mainly disconnected from the exterior world, and the ruins of the enormous ancient cities were little acknowledged excluding the locals. "In 1839 however, American traveler, John Lloyd Stephens, hearing reports of lost ruins in the jungle, visited Copan, Palenque, and other sites with English architect & draftsman Frederick Catherwood. Their illustrated accounts of the ruins sparked strong interest in the region and the people, and they have once again regained their position as a vital link in Mesoamerican heritage. Much of the contemporary rural population of Guatemala and Belize is Maya by descent and primary language; a Maya culture still exists in rural Mexico" (A Brief History of the Mayan Civilization, 2011).

Classic Maya culture advanced in three areas in Mesoamerica. By far the most significant and most absolute urban developments took place in the lowlands in the central area of southern Guatemala. This area is a drainage basin about sixty miles long and twenty miles wide and is sheltered by tropical rain forest. The Mayas are only one of two civilizations to grow an urban culture in a tropical rainforest. The main city in this region was Tikal, but the spread of urbanization moved south to Honduras; the southernmost Mayan city was Copan in northern Honduras. In the Guatemalan highlands to the north, Mayan culture advanced less completely. The highlands are milder and seem to have been the key providers of raw materials to the central urban centers. The biggest and most inclusive urban center was Palenque. The other chief area of Mayan development was the Yucatan peninsula making up the southern and eastern parts of modern Mexico. This is a dry area and, even though urban centers were constructed in this area, including Chichen Itza and Uxmal, most scholars consider that this was a culturally insignificant area. After the desertion of the Classic Mayan cities, the Yucatan peninsula turned out to be the major section of a new, synthetic culture called Toltec-Mayan which was fashioned when Toltecs traveling from the north joined with native Maya peoples (The Civilizations of Ancient Mesoamerica, 2009).

The Maya people share a lot of features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the elevated quantity of relations and cultural disseminations that characterized the area. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not begin with the Maya; nevertheless, their civilization completely advanced them.…

Sources Used in Documents:


A Brief History of the Mayan Civilization. (2011). Retrieved from

Cecil, Jessica. (2011). The Fall of the Mayan Civilisation. Retrieved from

Central America: Connecting Continents, Keeping Oceans Apart. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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