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Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Ground Up: Mayan Civilizations-the Evolution

The ruins of Palenque.

The Mayan culture may just be one of the most dynamic representations of rich cultural heritage the world has ever seen. With the civilization came invention, and although advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya, their civilization fully developed them.

The customs maintained are a result of the unification of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest philosophies-structured by the almost total adoption of Roman Catholicism.

According to "accepted history" the first “Maya” settlements were established in around 1800 BC in the Soconusco region of the Pacific Coast. This point in time, known as the Early Preclassic, was characterized by sedentary communities and the introduction of pottery and fired clay figurines.

Panel from Cancuén portraying the ruler T’ah 'ak' Cha’an.

During the Classic period, the most monumental of creations took life in the form of stepped pyramids. The Mayan's built pyramids in their religious centers and the accompanying palaces of their rulers. The palace at Cancuen is the largest in the Maya area, though the site lacks pyramids.

The Collapse of Mayan Civilization

The end of the Mayan civilization is arguably one of the most researched collapses in archaeological history. During the 8th and 9th centuries, the surrounding areas were abandoned due to over population, drought, disease, and war.

Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change. There is evidence that the Maya population surpassed carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and overhunting of megafauna.[3] Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to the collapse of Maya civilization.[4] The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds,[5] ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community.

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A stucco relief from Palenque depicting Upakal K'inich.

This is on display at the Jade Museum in Antigua, Guatemala. Today, some Mayans decorate their teeth with gold inlays, hundreds of years ago they seem to have used jade. By DavidDennisPhotos.com

Jade Mayan Mask

A jade mask that metaphorically represents the Rain God Chaac, and the Creator God Kukulkan.

A Middle Preclassic palace structure at Nakbé, the Mirador Basin.


Tulum is just across the water from Cozumel, Mexico. Postcard type photo...
HDR. Gauss on a bit. Comes across as one of those old colored BW postcards. by joiseyshowaa

Pyramid of Kukulcan

View from the Great Ball Court towards the Pyramid of Kukulcan (El Castillo) and the Temple of the Warriors (to the left). By the time I took this photo there were ever-growing hordes of visitors that made taking a clean shot difficult. In this photo I was able to use this Mayan wall (bottom foreground) to shield out all the gringos. by Rob Shenk

Mayan House

This is a photo of a Mayan house. Most of it's walls have fallen down but you can still see the front stops. Most houses in the Mayan culture look similar to this. By amber.kennedy

National Geographic: Palenque Prized for Unlocking Maya Mysteries

The first published account of this lost city was in 1567, from a Spaniard, Father Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada.Exploring near the Usumacinta River, located in the modern Mexican state of Chiapas, Lorenzo came upon its stone temples and plazas, originally decorated with blue- and red-painted stucco but by then long abandoned by the Maya who built it. Lorenzo gave the grand structure the name Palenque, a Spanish word meaning "fortification."
Read More

By Kelly Hearn

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  1. Drew (2004), p.6.
  2. Coe, Michael D. (2002). The Maya (6th ed.). Thames & Hudson. pp. 47.
  3. University of Florida study: Maya politics likely played role in ancient large-game decline, Nov. 2007
  4. Gill, R. (2000). The Great Maya Droughts. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0826321941.
  5. Hodell, David A.; Curtis, Jason H.; Brenner, Mark (1995). "Possible role of climate in the collapse of Classic Maya civilization". Nature 375 (6530): 391–394. doi:10.1038/375391a0.
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