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The Maya - Their Expansion and Collapse
The Maya Civilization - A Brief Overview
Long ago, In the lands of south-eastern and eastern Mexico, the Maya culture was alive and growing. This was around the same time that the Olmec and Zapotec cultures were thriving as well, in different parts of Mexico. The Maya were in the jungles to the south and east of these two other cultures, in the area we now call Guatemala and Belize.
We only know a limited amount about the ancient Maya. Surely, some of this is due to the tropical nature of the lands they lived on. Only so many archaeological remains could have survived in that setting and for that long.
What we do know is that there was some connection with the later Maya and their way of life. There were village settlements that we know of, for instance, by the second millennium BC. It was clear these settlements had things in common with the Maya that came later. These were located on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, not that far from the Mexican border.
Farming was a way of life, as we see settlements of village farmers established in both the central lowlands regions as well as the southern highland regions. Later, these areas were to become the Maya homelands in the centuries after 800 BC.
Something of interest, is that the powerful Olmec culture of Mexico didn't have much impact or influence on the Maya. Some would think there would be domination by the Olmec, yet they seem to not have been. It is possible that because they were likely not drawn into cultural exchange or trade, they were not drawn into some things they otherwise would have been.
Over time, the Maya began of course, to build larger ceremonial and urban settlements. This was around 600 - 400 BC. The four centuries following 300 BC, many of the settlements grew significantly, and their culture really thrived.
One place that became known as a ceremonial center was called Tikal. There was a village there, and it was in the tropical rain forest of Guatemala. When we hear about and see pictures of the great pyramids and temples, this is the time frame we are speaking of. The builders erected these amazing structures during the years of 300 BC and AD 100. About twelve miles or so north of Tikal, other ceremonial buildings were erected at Uaxactun, before AD 100. They have found giant masks which hints of strong influence from the Olmec, which I think is rather interesting. Prior, there had not been much influence found from the Olmec over these people.
There was a great city built just north of Nakbe. It was built in El Mirador, and had incredible limestone pyramids which were on basalt stones. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to see such limestone pyramids in their day? I hope that as time goes on, we continue to learn more and more about what happened in the daily lives of people.
Expansion Continues for a time.
The Maya continued to thrive for some time. There is a 650 year time frame that the scholars say the Maya were at their zenith. Some scholars refer to this time as the Classic Period, and it started about AD 250 and went on approximately 650 years or so.
This is the time frame that important settlements like Chichen Itza were being founded or expanding. Others included Copan, Uxmal and Palenque. During the height of this Classic Period, it is said there were more than forty Maya cities. Their populations ranged from five thousand to fifty thousand in each city. The total amount of people may have been around two million or so, at one time. Most of these people lived in the lowlands, or modern day Guatemala.
What Was Life LIke for the Maya?
We only know a limited amount of details about the Maya. One thing we know is that these city states often were in a state of conflict. Some accounts say even constant conflict. In each city state, there was a ruling family. These dynasties made alliances with others, but then broke those alliances with rival rulers. Often, the broken alliances happened because of other conflicts.
Even though these times were often difficult, we see the Maya creating an amazing culture which produced the temples we see and enjoy today, as well as pyramids and palaces. There were advanced irrigation systems, and of course the famed and rather sophisticated calendar used for time keeping. Their handle on mathematics and astronomical science is simply amazing. Their highly developed and very interesting writing system is just incredible to observe as well.
Abandoned Cities in the Lowlands - Collapse
It was around the ninth century AD when the lowland cities seemed to suddenly be abandoned. What happened to the great Maya people and their cities? Many scholars are still debating what could account for this. Part of what is curious, is that the Maya cities that were located further north off the Yucatan Peninsula, like Chichen Itza and Uxmal seemed to continue on just as before.
Replica Stela from Copan
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