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Maya Civilization - Part2

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Maya Civilization - Part2 Empty Maya Civilization - Part2

Post by Admin Mon Jul 09, 2007 11:22 pm

Classic Maya civilization became more complex in about AD 300 as the population increased and centers in the highlands and the lowlands engaged in both cooperation and competition with each other. Trade and warfare were important stimuli to cultural growth and development. The greatest developments occurred in the Petén jungle and surrounding regions of the lowlands where major city-states, such as Tikal, Palenque, Piedras Negras, and Copán, arose and developed from AD 300 to 900.
Society became more complex, with distinct social classes developing. Families of nobles formed a hereditary ruling class that stood apart from the common Maya. At the top of society, a hereditary king ruled over each Maya city. Kings were similar to the earlier ruling chiefs except that they formed a distinct social class along with other nobles. Under the direction of their kings, who also performed as priests, the centers of the lowland Maya became densely populated jungle cities with vast stone and masonry temple and palace complexes. The core area of Tikal, for example, covered about 9 sq km (about 3 sq mi) and included about 2700 structures with an estimated population of 11,300. The total area of Tikal, including the core, peripheral, and rural areas, is estimated at 314 sq km (121 sq mi) with an estimated population of 92,000.
During the Classic period, warfare was conducted on a fairly limited, primarily ceremonial scale. Maya rulers, who were often depicted on stelae (carved stone monuments) carrying weapons, attempted to capture and sacrifice one another for ritual and political purposes. The rulers often destroyed parts of some cities, but the destruction was directed mostly at temples in the ceremonial precincts; it had little or no impact on the economy or population of a city as a whole. Some city-states did occasionally conquer others, but this was not a common occurrence until very late in the Classic period when lowland civilization had begun to disintegrate. Until that time, the most common pattern of Maya warfare seems to have consisted of raids employing rapid attacks and retreats by relatively small numbers of warriors, most of whom were probably nobles.
Lowland Maya centers were true cities with large resident populations of commoners who sustained the ruling elites through payments of tribute in goods and labor. They built temples, palaces, courtyards, water reservoirs, and causeways. Walls, floors, and other surfaces in a lowland Maya city were smoothly covered with red or cream-colored limestone stucco, which shone brilliantly in the tropical sun. Sculptors carved stelae, which recorded information about the rulers, their family and political histories, and often included exaggerated statements about their conquests of other city-states.

A Society and Economy
Classic Maya kings carried the title k’ul ahau (supreme and sacred ruler). In the latter part of the Classic period, kings were assisted in governing by a hereditary ruling council. The power of the king existed as both a political and religious authority in this period. In contrast, the king’s religious power declined during the Postclassic period (AD 900 to 1521) because the institution of priesthood appeared.
Merchants were important to Maya society because of the significance of trade. Principal interior trade routes connected all the great Classic lowland centers and controlled the flow of goods such as salt, obsidian, jade, cacao, animal pelts, tropical bird feathers, and luxury ceramics. In the early Classic period Teotihuacán in central Mexico emerged as the greatest city in Mesoamerica, an area that included modern Mexico and most of Central America. The religious and political power of Teotihuacán radiated throughout Mesoamerica. One result of Teotihuacán’s influence was a highly integrated network of trade in which the Maya participated.
Highland Maya from the southern region carried obsidian for tools and weapons; grinding stones; jade; green parrot and quetzal feathers; a tree resin called copal to burn as incense; and cochineal, a red dye made from dried insects. Those from the lowlands brought jaguar pelts, chert (flint), salt, cotton fibers and cloth, balche, wax, honey, dried fish, and smoked venison. People either bartered goods directly or exchanged them for cacao beans, which were used as a kind of currency. Wealth acquired from trade enabled the upper classes to live in luxury, although there was little improvement in the lives of the lower classes.
A Maya nobleman wore an embroidered cotton loincloth trimmed with feathers; a robe of cotton, jaguar skin, or feathers; sandals; and an elaborate feather headdress that was sometimes as large as himself. His head had been fashionably elongated by being pressed between boards when he was a few days old, and his eyes had purposely been crossed in childhood by having objects dangled before them. His nose was built up with putty to give it an admired beak shape, and his ears and teeth were inlaid with jade. A noblewoman wore a loose white cotton robe that was often embroidered. Her head was also elongated, and she filed her teeth to points.
Nobles lived in houses of cut stone with plastered walls that often bore brightly painted murals. In the living room nobles gave banquets of turkey, deer, duck, chocolate, and balche. The guests were expected to bring gifts and to give a banquet in return. A dead noble was buried in a stone vault with jade and pottery ornaments, and occasionally with human sacrifices, which were provided to serve him in the afterlife.
Most of the Maya people were village farmers who gave two-thirds of their produce and much of their labor to the upper classes. Commoner men wore plain cotton loincloths and simple tunics. Women wore woven cotton blouses and skirts or loose-fitting sack dresses with simple embroidered patterns. Women and girls wore their hair long and took care that it was always combed and arranged attractively. Different hairstyles signaled the marital status of women. Both men and women tattooed their bodies with elaborate designs.
At the bottom of Maya society were slaves who were convicted criminals, poor commoners who sold themselves into bondage, captives of war, or individuals acquired by trade. Slaves performed menial tasks for their owners and they were often sacrificed when their owners died so that they could continue to serve in the afterlife.
B Religion
The Maya cosmos comprised a wide range of diverse and varied supernatural beings or deities. The chief god, Hunab Ku, the creator of the world, was considered too far above men to figure in worship. He was more important in his manifestation as Itzamna, a sky deity considered lord of the heavens and lord of day and night who brought rain and patronized writing and medicine. He was worshiped especially by the priests, and he appears to have been the patron deity of the royal lineages. Closer to the common people were Yum Kaax, the maize deity, and the four Chacs, or rain gods, each associated with a cardinal direction and with its own special color. Women worshiped Ix Chel, a rainbow deity associated with healing, childbirth, and weaving. All the Maya revered Ixtab, goddess of suicide, and thought that suicides went to a special heaven. The Maya also recognized the gods who controlled each day, month, and year. See also Pre-Columbian Religions.
The Maya performed many rituals and ceremonies to communicate with their deities. At stated intervals, such as the Maya New Year in July, or in emergencies—such as famine, epidemics, or a great drought—the people gathered in ritual plazas to honor the gods. They hung feathered banners in doorways all about the plaza. Groups of men or women in elaborate feathered robes and headdresses, with bells on their hands and feet, danced in the plaza to the music of drums, whistles, rattles, flutes, and wood trumpets. Worshipers took ritual steam baths and drank intoxicating balche. Participants often ingested other hallucinogenic drugs, such as mushrooms, and they smoked a very strong form of tobacco with hallucinogenic effects. Young Maya nobles played a sacred ball game on specially constructed courts. Without using their hands, players tried to knock a rubber ball through one of the vertical stone rings built into the walls of the court. On special occasions players who lost the game would be sacrificed to the gods.
Many ceremonies focused on sacrifices to gain the favor of the gods. The sacrifices took place on the great stone pyramids that rose above the plazas, with stairs leading to a temple and altar on top. The temple, a resting place for the god, was deeply carved or painted with designs and figures and was topped with a carved vertical slab of stone called a roof comb. Some had distinctive corbeled arches, in which each stone extended beyond the one beneath it until the two sides of the arch were joined by a single keystone at the top. Before the altar, smoke rose from copal incense burning in pottery vessels.
Worshipers sometimes gave the gods simple offerings of corn, fruit, game, or blood, which a worshiper obtained by piercing his own lips, tongue, or genitals. For major favors they offered the gods human sacrifice, usually children, slaves, or prisoners of war. A victim was painted blue and then ceremonially killed on top of the pyramid, either by being shot full of arrows or by having his arms and legs held while a priest cut open his chest with a sacrificial flint knife and tore out his heart as an offering. Captured rulers were sometimes ritually sacrificed by decapitating them with an axe.
C Science and Writing
Although Maya builders possessed many practical skills, the most distinctive Maya achievements were in abstract mathematics and astronomy. One of their greatest intellectual achievements was a pair of interlocking calendars, which was used for such purposes as the scheduling of ceremonies. One calendar was based on the sun and contained 365 days. The second was a sacred 260-day almanac used for finding lucky and unlucky days. The designation of any day included the day name and number from both the solar calendar and the sacred almanac. The two calendars can be thought of as two geared wheels that meshed together at one point along the rim, with the glyphs for the days of the sun calendar on one wheel and the glyphs for the days of the sacred almanac on the other. With each new day the wheels were turned by one gear. The name for each day was formed by combining the name for the sun calendar day with the name for the sacred almanac day.
Maya astronomers could make difficult calculations, such as finding the day of the week of a particular calendar date many thousands of years in the past or in the future. They also used the concept of zero, an extremely advanced mathematical concept. Although they had neither decimals nor fractions, they made accurate astronomical measurements by dropping or adding days to their calendar. For example, during 1000 years of observing the revolution of the planet Venus, which is completed in 583.92 days, Maya astronomers calculated the time of the Venusian year as 584 days. The Maya method of reckoning time involved counting forward from a hypothetical fixed point and expressing the date in time periods based on the number 20 and counted in intervals of 1, 20, 360, 7200, and 144,000 days. Such dates appear on carved stone monuments dating to as early as the late Preclassic period, and they are prevalent throughout the lowlands on monuments from the Classic period.
The Maya developed a complex system of hieroglyphic writing to record not only astronomical observations and calendrical calculations, but also historical and genealogical information. Many recent advances have occurred in the decipherment of the Mayan script. These breakthroughs made it possible to conclude that Mayan hieroglyphs were a mixture of glyphs that represent complete words and glyphs that represent sounds, which were combined to form complete words. Scribes carved hieroglyphs on stone stelae, altars, wooden lintels, and roof beams, or painted them on ceramic vessels and in books made of bark paper. Discoveries reported early in 2006 indicate that the Maya were writing more than 2,300 years ago, at least 600 years earlier than previously thought.

D Collapse of Classic Civilization
From about AD 790 to 889, Classic Maya civilization in the lowlands collapsed. Construction of temples and palaces ceased, and monuments were no longer erected. The Maya abandoned the great lowland cities, and population levels declined drastically, especially in the southern and central lowlands. Scholars debate the causes of the collapse, but they are in general agreement that it was a gradual process of disintegration rather than a sudden dramatic event.
A number of factors were almost certainly involved, and the precise causes were different for each city-state in each region of the lowlands. Among the factors that have been suggested are natural disasters, disease, soil exhaustion and other agricultural problems, peasant revolts, internal warfare, and foreign invasions. Whatever factors led to the collapse, their net result was a weakening of lowland Maya social, economic, and political systems to the point where they could no longer support large populations. Another result was the loss of inestimable amounts of knowledge relating to Maya religion and ritual.

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