Monday, October 15, 2012

The Ancient Maya

Temple V

     The Maya civilization started in Central America, on the Yucatan Peninsula, around 400 c.e.  They were eminent craftsmen; many elaborate scenes were painted on pottery.  The Mayas also held war as an important factor in their everyday life.  They attacked neighboring tribes and captured men, women, and children to sacrifice on their temples.  They fought with bows and arrows, and sharpened stones bound to a piece of wood for spears.  The temples were built like pyramids, with stairs to climb up to the top. It also had a flat surface at the summit, so they could perform sacred ceremonies there.  The pyramids were usually 200 feet tall, and they built all this without any metal tools, or horses or mules to drag the material up to the building site.

Ancient head

     Tikal was one of the most important Mayan cities.  It had more temples in it than any other Maya settlement.  The largest temple rises 400 feet.  The Mayans had built multiple temples on top of each other whenever the temple began to crumble, so there are many temples buried underground.  Some temples were meant for climbing, and some for worshipping, but no one was allowed up the worship temples.  Some of the off-limit temples were rigged with booby traps.  There were also spectacular faces, almost 6 feet high, carved out of the temples.  There were stone slabs with elaborate scenes or pictures of gods and rulers decorating the front as well.

View from the Temple of the Jaguar

     Worshipping gods was an important aspect in everyday Maya life.   They had to appease the gods, or the gods would send rain and floods to punish the people.  The Maya gods supposedly dwelled in the upperworld, and could be depicted in many forms, whether human or animal.  The supreme god, Itzamnaaj, was the creator of writing, learning, and the human race.  When in human form, he was an old, toothless man with a big nose.  Unlike other gods, Itzamnaaj was compassionate.  His wife, Ix Chel, was the goddess of nature, but could be terrible and cruel.  The other gods were the children of Itzamnaaj and Ix Chel.  The Maya kings wanted to please the gods with their own blood, and often experienced visions of the gods when they spilled enough blood.  They also had a more sinister method of appeasing the gods.  After their soldiers had taken captives from a nearby city-state, the Maya priests would escort them to the top of the temple, where their fate awaited them.  Then the priests would hold the victim over a stone slab.  While priests chanted hymns, the terrified victim had his heart cut out for offering to the gods.  The mutated body was then kicked down the side of the temple. The Maya may have been powerful, but they were also bloodthirsty.  

In the Maya passageway
       In the late 13th century the Maya began to desert their cities because of lack of food.  Earthquakes and tidal waves may have helped too.  Tikal did not escape these  natural phenomenons.  The Maya villagers took over the Maya’s holy temples.  Wanderers stalked the royal palace’s corridors, until time  and the jungle cut off Tikal completely.  The Maya world was beginning to crumble from attacks from the Aztecs, an even fiercer tribe than the Mayas.  By the time Columbus arrived, around 1400, the Maya were living in small, unimportant villages.

Maya ruins

     When we visited the ancient Maya city of Tikal, we hiked all over the ancient ruins.  Some of the ruins still had heads carved out of the stone, and they were covered with moss and growth.  Most of the temples were roped off, but we could climb some of them, including the largest temple, temple IV, and the view was superb! Over the tangled mass of green jungle, we could see the other taller Maya ruins, protruding from the jungle.  We visited many small towns, cast down in ruin and also smaller temples for the less important ceremonies.  I climbed temples where Mayas had tossed sacrifices down.  We came back home tired, but it was totally worth it.  The Mayas did some pretty amazing things, and they are still astounding us with their puzzles to this day.

Goin' down

No comments:

Post a Comment