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Maya Civilization - Part3

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Maya Civilization - Part3 Empty Maya Civilization - Part3

Post by Admin Mon Jul 09, 2007 11:23 pm

After the collapse in the central and southern lowlands, Maya civilization continued and even flourished in the northern lowlands of Yucatán and in the southern highlands of Guatemala. The decline of the older powers in the south led to unprecedented growth in the Yucatán Peninsula and the rise of a number of new cities in that region. Among these were Uxmal, Sayil, and Labna, characterized by a distinctive architectural style known as Puuc, which features elaborate mosaic decoration.
In Postclassic times (AD 900 to 1521) the city-states of Yucatán were ruled by a hereditary halach uinic (also called ahau) who was also the highest religious authority. The halach uinic had very broad powers. He formulated domestic and foreign policy and appointed batabs (lesser lords), who administered the surrounding towns and villages. Local councils made up of clan leaders aided the batabs. Other local Maya officials collected taxes and kept order. Postclassic merchants and professional craftworkers composed a kind of middle class.
A high priest, known as ahaucan, conducted major ceremonies and was in charge of the education of priests and nobles. He was assisted by a hierarchy of priests who took part in ceremonies, kept vigils in the temples, performed healing rituals, taught, and served as oracles for the gods. Although similar features and patterns existed in the Classic political structure, the institution of priesthood appears only in the Postclassic.
At the same time, during the 9th century, a new group of Maya, known as the Putun (or Chontal) Maya, began to arrive in Yucatán from their homeland in the Gulf Coast region of Mexico. The Putuns were warriors and traders without equal in the Maya area. At first they were interested in trade along rivers and overland routes. Eventually they became seafaring people whose merchants plied coastal trade routes around the peninsula and beyond in canoes. These large oceangoing canoes traveled the coast transporting huge loads of heavy and bulky goods much more efficiently than was possible in earlier times. Italian-Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus encountered such a canoe off the Caribbean coast of Honduras on his fourth voyage to the Americas in 1502.
Ports of trade, such as Xicalanco (now in Tabasco, Mexico), served as international meeting places that attracted not only Maya but also traders from highland Mexico to the west and Central America to the south. Wealthy Maya merchants organized expeditions that traveled great distances in fleets of canoes or over well-constructed stone roads and causeways. Along the routes they built warehouses for goods and rest houses for their carriers. The need to protect the trade networks led the Putuns to develop very aggressive military forces.
Ethnically Maya, the Putuns adopted many stylistic influences from central Mexico in their art and architecture. Especially common was the image of the feathered serpent representing the deity known as Quetzalcoatl in Mexico and as Kukulcan to the Maya. One very powerful Putun group, the Itzá, founded their capital at Chichén Itzá.
A Chichén Itzá
The Itzá brought their Mexicanized Maya culture to Chichén Itzá in the northern part of the Yucatán Peninsula. During their rule, Mexican-influenced cultures produced certain changes in the traditional Maya way of life. In the social structure military lords rose in power, and the institution of a formalized priesthood separated from political rulers. This change was echoed in religion, in which the feathered serpent-god Kukulcan dominated all others. The use of human sacrifice in worship became increasingly important. There were also new forms of sacrifice; the Itzá threw victims into a sacred cenote, or natural well, along with offerings of pottery, gold, jade, and other valuables. This cenote, in fact, determined the location of Chichén Itzá and was responsible for the city’s importance as a pilgrimage center.
Chichén Itzá was a very large city with a central area covering about 5 sq km (2 sq mi). Its architecture shows the introduction of columns, wider rooms and doorways, and sloping zones around the base of the buildings. The core area includes numerous temples and ball courts, one of which is the largest known in Mesoamerica. One distinctive structure of the city is a round temple that functioned as an observatory. Statues and motifs of Kukulcan appeared on buildings, staircases, roofs, columns, and doorway lintels. Life-size stone figures supported the altars, and great reclining stone figures, called Chacmools, were sculpted. Warriors depicted in bas-relief columns lack the Classic Maya distortion of head and eyes. Pottery became monochrome, or single-colored, instead of multicolored, as it had been in the Classic era, but it was often carved or incised with intricate designs. Gold, copper, turquoise, and onyx were used in jewelry. Painted books, called codices, were made of bark fiber or deerskin. Trade and commerce, especially maritime exchange, increased.
B Mayapán
In about 1221 Mayapán, which became the dominant state in the northern lowlands, conquered Chichén Itzá. Mayapán was smaller than Chichén Itzá but more densely settled. Among its 3500 buildings were houses for nobles and commoners, and it was surrounded by a fortified stone wall 8 km (5 mi) long to protect it against neighboring groups. Structures were packed very tightly in the 4 sq km (1.5 sq mi) area of this walled city. Warlords and merchants continued to gain in importance, and the continual call to arms took up the time of the common people, who spent less and less time on their crafts. Architecture, pottery, and carvings of the period are crude in comparison to those of earlier periods. Finally, in about 1450, a competing lineage defeated the rulers of Mayapán, and the entire peninsula fell into civil war. The following 100 years of warfare left the Maya vulnerable to the invading Spaniards.
C Spanish Conquest
The first Spaniards to encounter the Maya were a party of shipwrecked sailors who landed in Yucatán in 1511. Next came the expedition of Francisco Fernández de Córdoba in 1517. In 1527 Francisco de Montejo attempted to conquer Yucatán, and in 1546 his son succeeded. By 1524 Spanish explorer Pedro de Alvarado had conquered the southern highland area, which had also fallen into tribal warfare. Spanish domination of the entire Maya region was achieved in 1697, when the small group of Maya in the central Petén area was conquered by Martin de Ursua, the Spanish governor of the Yucatán. Many Maya were killed or died of European diseases that the Spanish brought with them. The Spanish forced most of the remainder to labor on Spanish farms or in gold and silver mines.
The modern descendants of the Maya still live as peasant farmers throughout the Maya region. They speak a mixture of Mayan and Spanish. One group, the Lacandón people of Mexico, still retains some ties with the past. They make pilgrimages with copal-burning incense pots to worship the old gods among the ruins of ancient pyramids and temples.
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- References:
Fowler, William R., Maya Civilization, Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2007.

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