The Maya

The Maya which flourished between A.D. 300 and 900. It was one of the most sophisticated civilization in the Americans. The Maya built splendid temples and pyramids and developed a complicated calender as a accurate as any in existence in farming people who cleared the dense rain forest, developed farming and centered their culture in city-states. It included much of Central American and South Mexico.

This is the Tikal in Guatemala on of the Maya city states were often at war with each other. Maya cities were built around a central pyramid topped by a shrine to the gods. Close by were other temples, palaces, and a sacred ball just like Tikal.

Mayan women have been weaving for centuries. When the Spaniards arrived, they were astounded by the brightly colored dress of the Mayas. Mayan women traditionally wear traje, which is a combination of a skillfully woven, multicolored blouse called a huipil of a corte, a woven wraparound skirt that reaches to the ankles, and is held together by faja (sash) at the waist. Women also wear some form of headdress, such as paƱuelo, on their heads, or cintas, four- or five-foot-long colorful ribbons that are braided into their shiny, long, black hair. A lengthy rectangular rebozo (shawl) and a decorated delantal (apron) are also part of traje. There are also small, silver or gold, round hoops for earrings and, in some areas, necklaces made from glass beads.

Handmade Guatemalan tortillas provide an elemental satisfaction. In outdoor markets, you can hear a rhythmic clapping as women pat them into shape, then cook them on a comal, a big wood-fired iron or clay pan that looks like a Caribbean steel drum. These tortillas are only three or four inches across but thicker than what North Americans are accustomed to.

The Maya creation myth says people were made of masa (corn dough), and this remains the essential element of the indigenous Maya diet. Hot off the comal, tortillas are immensely satisfying, an ideal accompaniment to Guatemalan black beans, a perfect base for a layer of guacamole.

Some of the warriors were actually more powerful than the nobles they served. The leaders of the warriors in each city might work with the city priests to determine if captives were needed for sacrifice. Warriors spent their life training to be better warriors. It was important to be a good warrior because the Maya cities were often at war with each other. Some scholars think they were always at war. The Maya did not use metal weapons. They had stone weapons and weapons made of wood and shells. They also carried shields. Warriors fought battles only during the day. That's how things were done when Maya cities went to war. A temporary peace was called each night. A battle continued, day after day, until the leader of one army was hurt or killed. Once that happened, the battle was over. The army without a leader went home leaving captives and their dead behind. The losers had to pay a tribute to the winners. This was negotiated and could be just about anything, including goods, people, textiles, gold, silver, copper, and salt.

The mayan found many animals on the peninsula. They used traps and snares to catch small animals. Bigger animals were killed with clubs and arrows. Mayan also fished, using nets or hooks and lines to catch fish in rivers. They grew gardens right next to their houses. Everyone that lived in the village helped with everyone's crops. The farmers would plant in may for the rainy season and harvest in November. Corn was the most important crop. The other crops they would grow were beans, squash, sweet potatos, and cotton.

Estimates vary, but there were thought to be between 30,000 and 60,000, or possibly up to 100,000 people living in Tikal at its height. Feeding that many people would have required a robust system of agriculture.

The ancient Maya had a complex pantheon of deities whom they worshipped and offered human sacrifices. Rulers were believed to be descendants of the gods and their blood was the ideal sacrifice, either through personal bloodletting or the sacrifice of captives of royal blood. The Mayan vision of the universe is divided into multiple levels, above and below earth, positioned within the four directions of north, south, east and west. After death, the soul was believed to go to the Underworld, Xibalba (shee bal bah), a place of fright where sinister gods tested and tricked their unfortunate visitors.

The cycles of celestial bodies, particularly the Sun, form the basis of the Maya calendar. It is no coincidence then that the word for Sun, day, and time are the same, or are very similar to each other in all Mayan languages. To keep track of time, the Maya observed and recorded the yearly cycles of the Sun; including the times of equinoxes, solstices, and the zenith and nadir passages.

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