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Interesting Mayan Facts

Updated on April 9, 2011

Mayan Pyramids

The Mayans, just like their earlier counterparts the Egyptians, they were experts at building pyramids and used them for many different purposes. One of the largest Mayan pyramids is located in Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico and the structure was used for the training of mathematicians, astronomers, healers, shamans and priests. It is actually named 'the pyramid of the magician' and this may be due to the fact that the entire city is aligned with the planets that where known at that time. The stairway on the west side is orientated to face the setting sun on the time of summer solstice, with the planet Venus having superiority over other planets.

El Castillo is another massive step-pyramid which is located in the center of Chichen Itza, an archaeological site which is also located in the Mexican state of Yucatan. There are 91 steps on three of the sides and 92 on the north staircase, and adds up to 365 steps, which correlates with the days of the year. Something I will study in greater depth further into the article is the Mayan calender system.

The Mayan were well known to archaeologists to build structures on top one another, and in the 1920s and 1930s during a restoration they dug into the northside of the pyramid to discover an older structures staircase. They followed the tunnel upwards and were delighted to find a buried chamber possessing a pristine Red Jaguar throne and a Chac Mool statue.

The pyramid was designed so that each Vernal Equinox the setting sun would cast a shadow of a serpent slithering down the steps of the pyramid. As we can see from the photograph many people make the pilgrmage to watch in awe as the snakes shiney backed body slowly appear.

Mayan ruins of Tulum

This was once thought of as a fortress, in reality the ruins of Tulum in Yucatan Peninsula are what once was a busy site of trade. The city is surrounded by walls and consisted of laborers, astrologers, farmers and noblemen. The remains of several house structures, burial sites for the kings, a tall pyramid and two structures on each corner of the fence to guide crop cultivation.

Mayan Human Sacrifices

 The Mayans were usually a peaceful community and its world was divided into polities or cities which would from time to time fight with one another under different circumstances. The main aim of these battles was for capturing prisoners, which depending upon there value would either become slaves or high status captives would be used for ritual sacrifice. The ancient Mayans were lead to believe that the delibrate taking of human life was necessary to appease the gods and would in return receive blessings, for example if a new king was appointed, a new structure was erected or for other religious ceremonies.

The favourite method of sacrifice was aquired from the north of Mexican cultures and was to remove the heart whilst it was still beating. The victim was painted blue whilst their arms and legs where held apart by 4 highly designated priests, the main priest called the Nacom would then proceed to penetrate the chest with a flint knife just below the left breast and reach inside.

Mayan scholars have been attempting to correlate the Long Count with our Western calendar, since the beginning of this century. Massive variation has been made in the suggested correlations, but as early as 1905, Goodman highlighted a correlation only 3 days from the most popular one today. Known as the GMT correlation, or "correlation # 584283", this was made official in 1950, and puts the start of the Great Cycle ( day 0.0.0.0.0) on 11th August 3114 BC, and the end-date (known as 13.0.0.0.0.) as 21st December 2012. This can be seen in the chart illustrated above, along with Mayan glyphs which represent the 18 Mayan month system.

'the ruins' 2008
'the ruins' 2008

I would like to end the article by mentioning it is only recently that Mayan History has been thrown into the limelight, with films such as 'the ruins' and '2012' hitting the cinemas in the last few years. I have included a trailer of 'the ruins' because this is one of my favourite films which I think puts a unique artistic spin on the mystic surrounding the Mayan people.

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