Maya Essay Research Paper Mayamy

Maya Essay, Research Paper Maya{my’-uh}The ancient Maya were a group of American Indian peoples who lived in southern Mexico, particularly thepresent-day states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo, and in Belize, Guatemala,and adjacent Honduras. Their descendants, the modern Maya, live in the same regions today, in bothhighlands and lowlands, from cool highland plains ringed by volcanos to deep tropical rain forests.

Maya Essay, Research Paper

Maya{my’-uh}The ancient Maya were a group of American Indian peoples who lived in southern Mexico, particularly thepresent-day states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo, and in Belize, Guatemala,and adjacent Honduras. Their descendants, the modern Maya, live in the same regions today, in bothhighlands and lowlands, from cool highland plains ringed by volcanos to deep tropical rain forests. Through the region runs a single major river system, the Apasion-Usumacinta and its many tributaries, andonly a handful of lesser rivers, the Motagua, Hondo, and Belize among them. The ancestors of the Maya,like those of other New World peoples, crossed the BERING LAND BRIDGE from Asia more than 20,000 yearsago, during the last ice age. The Maya were the first people of the New World to keep historical records: their written history beginsin 50 BC, when they began to inscribe texts on pots, jades, bones, stone monuments, and palace walls. Maya records trace the history of the great kings and queens who ruled from 50 BC until the Spanishconquest in the 16th century. All Maya “long count” calendar inscriptions fall between AD 292 and AD909, roughly defining the period called Classic. Earlier Maya culture is called Formative or Preclassic(2000 BC-AD 300), and subsequent civilization is known as Postclassic (AD 900-conquest). Protected by difficult terrain and heavy vegetation, the ruins of few ancient Maya cities were knownbefore the 19th century, when explorers and archaeologists began to rediscover them. The age andproliferation of Maya writings have been recognized since about 1900, when the calendrical content ofMaya hieroglyphic inscriptions was deciphered and the dates correlated with the Christian calendar. Formost of the 20th century, only the extensive calendrical data of Maya inscriptions could be read, and asa result, Maya scholars hypothesized that the inscriptions were pure calendrical records. Because littleevidence of warfare had been recognized archaeologically, the Classic Maya were thought of as peacefultimekeepers and skywatchers. Their cities, it was thought, were ceremonial centers for ascetic priests,and their artwork anonymous, without concern for specific individuals. More recent scholarship changes the picture dramatically. In 1958 Heinrich Berlin demonstrated thatcertain Maya hieroglyphs, which he called emblem glyphs, contained main signs that varied according tolocation, indicating dynastic lines or place names. In 1960, Tatiana Proskouriakoff showed that thepatterns of dates were markers of the important events in rulers’ lives. The chronological record turnedout to serve history and the perpetuation of the memory of great nobles. Subsequently, majorarchaeological discoveries, particularly at PALENQUE and TIKAL, confirmed much of what the writings said,and examination of Maya art has revealed not only historical portraiture but also a pantheon of gods,goddesses, and heroes–in other words, Maya religion and mythic history. HISTORY OF THE ANCIENT MAYABy 5000 BC, the Maya had settled along Caribbean and Pacific coasts, forming egalitarian fishingcommunities. Certainly by 2000 BC the Maya had also moved inland and adopted agriculture for theirsubsistence. Maize and beans formed the Maya diet then as today, although many other foodstuffs–squash,tomatoes, peppers, fruits, and game–were supplements. The word for maize–wa–is synonymous with fooditself, and the maize god was honored from early times. Preclassic PeriodDuring the Early Preclassic (2000-900 BC), civilization began to take shape in parts of MESOAMERICA. By1200 BC, the OLMEC of the Gulf Coast had risen to preeminence, dominating trade routes that extended fromthe modern Mexican state of Guerrero to Costa Rica, passing through Maya regions. At COPAN, Honduras,and Cuello, Belize, around 1000 BC, local Maya leaders began to imitate Olmec styles of pottery and jadesand adopted orthodox Olmec religious symbols for their own use. Identification with the dominant cult inMesoamerica helped support the emergence of social strata among the Maya, particularly where the Mayacame into contact with the Olmec. Archaeologists have recently shown that the Maya began to develop intensive agriculture and sophisticatedwater management during the Middle Preclassic (900-300 BC), which may have helped support the populationexplosion of the Late Preclassic (300 BC-AD 300). During this same period, writing was invented inMesoamerica, probably by the ZAPOTECS of Oaxaca. Although writing was in use along the Gulf Coast and inOaxaca, the Maya began to use it only during the Late Preclassic. During the Late Preclassic, Maya village life everywhere gave way to stratified society dominated by asmall elite. The fruits of intensive agriculture and the profits of long-distance trade began to beconcentrated in the hands of a few. Lowland Maya groups at El Mirador, Cerros, Lamanai, UAXACTUN, andTikal cleared small villages and replaced them with planned communities centered around massiveceremonial structures featuring enormous mask facades of a newly codified pantheon. In the highlands, atIZAPA, Abaj Takalik, El Baul, and KAMINALJUYU, other Maya groups erected stone stelae on which Maya lordsand deities were portrayed, sometimes in association with dates. Although they did not invent the “longcount” calendar, the Maya were its greatest exploiters, and they used it to record history in their ownlanguages. In many ways, the pattern for Classic Maya life was forged during the Late Preclassic. Classic PeriodBy AD 250 or so, at Tikal, Uaxactun, Rio Azul, and elsewhere in the lowlands, both monumentalarchitecture and stelae with historical records were being erected, but on these monuments the Maya lordswear the images of the gods, and from this point until the end of the Classic period, the Maya rulersreigned as divine kings. Much religious ritual focused on ancestors. Based on the inscriptions,linguists believe that the Classic Maya spoke a language closely related to modern Chol, Yucatec, andChorti. During the Early Classic (AD 250-550), the Maya also sustained profound contact with warriorsand traders from TEOTIHUACAN in central Mexico, the largest and most powerful state of the era. There isno evidence of conquest, but Maya adopted some foreign deities, modes of representation, and styles ofclothing. By the end of the Early Classic, powerful lineages had established cities and city-states throughout thelowlands, from Comalcalco and Palenque in the west to Copan and QUIRIGUA in the south, Altun Ha in theeast, and Calakmul in the north. Following a period (AD 530-580) called the “hiatus,” when few datedworks of art or buildings were made, the Maya thrived during the Late Classic (AD 550-900), and art,architecture, and writing flourished at dozens of city-states. More than 2 million people may have livedin the Maya area, and Tikal, the largest center, may have had a population of 75,000-100,000. To supportgrowing populations, the Maya expanded their systems of intensive agriculture. As populations rose, the nobles of these independent city-states both intermarried and made war on oneanother. Some families, as at Yaxhilan, built small empires and directed the fortunes of smallersatellites; others, as at Dos Pilas, actively made war on smaller cities and sometimes incorporated theminto their spheres of influence. No lowland Classic Maya domain, however, survived into the 10thcentury. Ultimately, the system of rule that had served the Maya well for centuries failed. Faced withfamine, foreign invasion, chronic warfare, and perhaps disease, an era ended in what is generally calledthe Classic Maya collapse. Although the Maya continued to live in both highlands and lowlands, theperiod of their greatest splendor was over. Postclassic PeriodIn the northern lowlands, civilization continued to thrive briefly at UXMAL and other sites in the Puuchills and then well into the Postclassic at CHICHEN ITZA. At the beginning of the Postclassic, speakersof Itza or Putun Maya from the Tabasco coast probably ruled at Chichen Itza, consolidating a powerfulstate sustained by trade, tribute, and war, and possibly developing a new system of administration,whereby three or four brothers may have shared power simultaneously. According to central Mexican andMaya annals, the TOLTEC king Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent) fled in 986 from Tula, Hidalgo, to Yucatan,where he was known as Kukulcan, a Maya translation of his name. Chichen Itza and Tula share commonstyles of art and architecture, and Toltec rulers may have held power briefly at Chichen Itza. Tula wassacked at the end of the 12th century; Chichen Itza was probably abandoned by then as well. The Itza founded a new capital at MAYAPAN in the 13th century, 100 km (62 mi) to the west of ChichenItza, and they modeled their main buildings on those of their former capital. Unlike most other Mayacities, Mayapan was walled, and some 15,000 people lived close together inside the protective shield, aresponse to troubled and warlike times. In the mid-15th century, Mayapan fell to treachery and revolt,and today the impoverished ruins still reflect the bitter sacking of the city. Trading towns survived along the Caribbean coast, and in 1502, Christopher Columbus and his son Ferdinandencountered Maya traders plying high dugout canoes filled with cloth and other goods off the coast ofHonduras. Tulum, the most spectacular of these trading towns, was seen from a Spanish ship and comparedto Seville. Wracked by strife and then by European diseases, the Maya of Yucatan broke up into tiny states at the

time of the Spanish conquest. The Spanish took advantage of Maya division to take control in 1542, andthey established their own capital at Merida, on the site of a Maya city called Tiho. During the Late Postclassic, the Highland Maya of Guatemala–Cakchiquel, Quiche, Pokomam,Tzutuhil–established fortified cities on hillside acropolises at Iximche, Utatlan, and Mixco Viejo, andscrapped among one another for control of precious resources, such as obsidian. The Quiche had madealliances with the Aztecs, but at the time of the conquest, the Cakchiquels aided the Spanish cause. In1527, the Europeans established their own capital. A few years later, a young Quiche nobleman wrote downthe Popol Vuh, the greatest surviving Maya work of literature, in the European alphabet. The last Mayakingdom, Taytasal, in Lake Peten Itza, was taken by the Spanish in 1697. ANCIENT MAYA CIVILIZATIONAlthough writing in the New World did not originate among the Maya, they gave writing its greatestrefinements. The Maya wrote a mixed script, with ideographic and phonetic elements. About 80% of Mayaglyphs can now be interpreted for their meaning, with a smaller number that can be sounded outphonetically and understood through Maya languages spoken today. Most inscriptions survive on stelae, and they recount the lives and deeds of nobles, the positions ofheavenly bodies–particularly the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter–on the dates recorded (all major events inthe life of Chan Bahlum of Palenque, for example, coincided with the movements of signatures. Inscriptions on pottery reveal elaborate mythology, as well as names of patron and maker. FourPostclassic Maya screenfold manuscripts are known, and by sheer accident of survival, all are almanacs ofthe rituals, offerings, and auguries for the year. Scribes and artists were nobles, and many may alsohave been priests. The Maya used several calendars simultaneously, and the “long count,” a continuous record of days from azero date that correlates to Aug. 13, 3114 BC, was as precise as the JULIAN DAY number, a chronologicalsystem developed in Europe in 1582 for scientific calculations. They also kept track of the solar andlunar years and the cycles of visible planets. In their calculations, numbers were written with dots(for ones) and bars (for fives) in a vigesimal (based on the number 20) system. Their number system useda placeholder that functioned like zero, which allowed them to calculate enormous sums: for example, astela at Coba records a period of time that now would have to be written 142 followed by 36 zeros. Across the Maya realm, as evinced in art and inscriptions, Maya nobility celebrated a ritual cycle:birth, heir designation, accession, warfare, ballgame (an athletic contest that was also a symbolicevent), death. Blood was the mortar of Maya life, and offerings were made to seal these events. Malenobles drew blood from the penis, ear, or tongue; women drew blood from the tongue; blood was drawnfrom the ears; fingernails, and mouths of war captives before they were sacrificed. When nobles died, the Maya believed that they became one with the gods, and that they dwelt in the nightsky with them. The Maya worshiped their ancestors, and in so doing, they worshiped the gods. From earlytimes on, the dead were buried under their houses, in which the family then continued to live. InClassic times, pyramids were erected over the tombs of dead kings, shrines to the ancestors and the gods. At Palenque the Temple of Inscriptions was a permanent tribute to Pacal (r. 615-683), and at Tikal,Temple I embodied Ruler A (r. 682-c.725). ArchitectureMaya architectural forms were derived from domestic architecture: stone or earthen platform andwattle-and-daub shelter, covered by a hip roof of thatch. The shrine and platform of the pyramid grewfrom the house form, and the Maya corbel arch, often called a “false” arch, preserves the hip roof instone. With these elements the Maya built ranging palaces, pyramids, shrines, and even ballcourts. Mayabuilders frequently set a new structure directly over an old one, and within ranging palace complexes,doorways were frequently walled up and changed. Maya cities follow no grid and show centuries of accretions. Buildings cluster along causeways andhillsides, following the difficult topography of most Maya sites. During the Postclassic, Chichen Itza builders introduced new forms, particularly columns, and greatcolonnades with thatch roofs were set in front of many administrative buildings. Palaces with galleriesof columns opened onto private patios. Later buildings at Mayapan and Tulum imitated the ones at ChichenItza, but they were poorly made and coated in thick layers of plaster and paint. Sculpture and PaintingEarly Classic stone sculpture usually features a single Maya ruler celebrating his reign in one of alimited number of formal poses, and the format was retained at Tikal, the most conservative of Mayacities, in the Late Classic. Particularly on the peripheries of the Classic realm, at Palenque, Copan,Yaxchilan, and PIEDRAS NEGRAS, at the beginning of the Late Classic, new modes of representation wereintroduced, and multifigure compositions became the rule. Scenes of bloodletting, warfare, and play inthe ballgame were carved on lintels and panels as well as on stelae, and women took featured roles aswives, mothers, and as rulers themselves. Many fine carvings on small jades, shells, and bones were wornand used by nobles, and many objects bear their owner’s name. Few monumental paintings survive, but a complete program has been preserved at BONAMPAK. Undoubtedly themost complex representation known in Maya art, it features hundreds of nobles celebrating theinstallation of an heir in office and the subsequent battle and bloodletting that sealed the events in790 and 792. During the 7th and 8th centuries many schools of vase painting thrived, and the survivingworks are a window on Maya belief and ritual. No Classic books survive, but the fine line painting onsome pots may be comparable to manuscript illumination. From many pots, it is clear that the Mayanobility emulated the Hero Twins, mythic tricksters who overcame underworld gods. At Chichen Itza, war, warriors, and sacrifice dominate the representations. From the cenote, or sacredwell, gold disks, jades, and other precious objects have been retrieved. THE MODERN MAYAThe modern Maya live in roughly the same geography as did their predecessors, now divided by modernpolitical boundaries. Some 4 million or so Maya speak one of the 30 or more Maya languages and retaintraditional customs, diet, dress, or housing. Many, particularly in Merida and Cancun, have adopted anurban life, but most continue to live in rural areas. Particularly in highland Guatemala, whereinsufficient land is available, men accept seasonal work away from their families and spend monthsharvesting coffee or other crops on the Pacific coast. During the Colonial period, Spanish slavers hauled thousands of Maya to the mines in northern Mexico,where most died, leaving the tropical lowlands virtually unpopulated. In Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize,many Maya have gone to the tropical lowlands in search of land in recent years. Prior to this incursion,only the LACANDON, a small group of 350 people living in a handful of communities, had dwelt in thejungle in this century. Now many Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chol, and Yucatec Maya have been granted new ejidos,or collective farms, by the Mexican government, where they raise coffee or cattle. In Guatemala, Kekchiand Mopan settlers have pushed into the Peten rain forest. Civil and racial strife in Guatemala in the1970s and 1980s forced many Maya, particularly Quiche, to flee across the border to Mexico, wherethousands of refugees remained. The Mexican government moved a large number to a permanent settlementnear Edzna, Campeche. In both the highland and the lowlands, the Maya have maintained age-old traditions. Maya rituals fornaming children, nurturing the agricultural cycle, marriage, sickness, death, and even auguring thefuture have been widely retained. In the northern lowlands, Chaac the rain god is worshiped, and intimes of need a chachaac, or rainmaking ceremony, is performed. Before the conquest, the uayeb, or lastfive days of the year, was a dangerous time; most Maya now identify uayeb with Holy Week, and it andCarnival are carefully observed. Particularly in the Mexican highland communities of Zinacantan andChamula, the cargo system of rotating civil offices is retained. Although the Spanish quickly established their capitals after the conquest, Maya rebellions were commonuntil the 20th century. In Yucatan, Mexico established (1902) a separate territory, Quintana Roo on theeast side of the peninsula, where many rebels fled. Made a state in 1974, Quintana Roo is now thelocation of Mexico’s prosperous Caribbean resorts. Mary Ellen MillerBibliography: Benson, Elizabeth P., The Maya World, rev. ed. (1977); Benson, Elizabeth P., and Griffin,G. G., eds., Maya Iconography (1988); Coe, Michael D., The Maya, 4th ed. (1987) and Breaking the MayaCode (1992); Hammond, Norman, Ancient Maya Civilization (1982); Hammond, N., Ancient Maya Civilization(1982); Henderson, John S., The World of the Ancient Maya (1981); Miller, Mary Ellen, The Art ofMesoamerica (1986); Morley, Sylvanus G., and Brainerd, George V., The Ancient Maya, rev. by R. J. Sharer, 4th ed. (1983); Morris, Walter F., Jr., Living Maya (1987); Reed, Nelson, The Caste War ofYucatan (1964); Sabloff, J. A., The New Archaeology and the Ancient Maya (1990); Schele, Linda, andMiller, Mary Ellen, The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art (1986); Schele, L., and Freidel,D., A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya (1990); Stephens, J. L., Incidents of Travelin Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, 2 vols. (1841; repr. 19!69), Stuart, George E. and Gene S., The Mysterious Maya (1977); Sullivan, P., Unfinished Conversations:Mayas and Foreigners between Two Wars (1990); Tedlock, Barbara, Time and the Highland Maya (19