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THE MAYA EMPIRE

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THE MAYA EMPIRE




GEOGRAPHICAL POSITION

T

 

he geographic extent of the Maya civilization, known as the Maya area, extended throughout the southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and the Yucatán Peninsula states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatán. The Maya area also extended throughout the northern Central American region, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and western Honduras.

As the largest sub-region in Mesoamerica, it encompassed a vast and varied landscape, from the mountainous regions of the Sierra Madre to the semi-arid plains of northern Yucatán. Climate in the Maya region can vary tremendously, as the low-lying areas are particularly susceptible to the hurricanes and tropical storms that frequent the Caribbean.

The Maya area is generally divided into three loosely defined zones: the southern Maya highlands, the southern (or central) Maya lowlands, and the northern Maya lowlands. The southern Maya highlands include all of elevated terrain in Guatemala and the Chiapas highlands. The southern lowlands lie just north of the highlands, and incorporate the Petén of the Mexican states of Campeche and Quintana Roo and northern Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. The northern lowlands cover the remainder of the Yucatán Peninsula, including the Puuc hills.

HISTORY

PRECLASSIC

While the Maya area was initially inhabited around the 10th millennium BC , the first clearly “Maya” settlements were established in approximately 1800 BC in Soconusco region of the Pacific Coast. This point in time, known as the Early Preclassic, was characterized by sedentary communities and the introduction of pottery and fired clay figurines.

Archaeological evidence suggests the construction of ceremonial architecture in Maya area by approximately 1000 BCE. The earliest configurations of such architecture consist of simple burial mounds, which would be the precursors to the stepped pyramids subsequently erected in the Late Preclassic. Prominent Middle and Late Preclassic settlement zones are located in the southern Maya lowlands, specifically in the Mirador and Petén Basins. Important sites in the southern Maya lowlands include Nakbe, El Mirador, Cival, and San Bartolo. In the Guatemalan Highlands Kaminal Juyú emerges around 800 BCE. For many centuries it controlled the Jade and Obsidian sources for the Petén and Pacific Lowlands. The important early sites of Izapa, Takalik Abaj and Chocolá at around 600 BCE were the main producers of Cacao. Mid-sized Maya communities also began to develop in the northern Maya lowlands during the Middle and Late Preclassic, though these lacked the size, scale, and influence of the large centers of the southern lowlands. Two important Preclassic northern sites include Komchen and Dzibilchaltun. The first written incription in mayan hyroglyphics also dates back to this period (c. 250 BCE).

CLASSIC

 

The Classic period (c. 250 CE–900 CE) witnessed the peak of large-scale construction and urbanism, the recording of monumental inscriptions, and a period of significant intellectual and artistic development, particularly in the southern lowland regions. They developed an agriculturally intensive, city-centered empire consisting of numerous independent city-states. This includes the well-known cities of Tikal, Palenque, Copán and Calakmul, but also the lesser known Dos Pilas, Uaxactun, Altun Ha, and Bonampak, among others. The Early Classic settlement distribution in the northern Maya lowlands is not as clearly known as the southern zone, but does include a number of population centers, such as Oxkintok, Chunchucmil, and the early occupation of Uxmal.

The most notable monuments are the stepped pyramids they built in their religious centers and the accompanying palaces of their rulers. The palace at Cancuen is the largest in the Maya area, though the site, interestingly, lacks pyramids. Other important archaeological remains include the carved stone slabs usually called stelae (the Maya called them tetun, or 'tree-stones'), which depict rulers along with hieroglyphic texts describing their genealogy, military victories, and other accomplishments.

The Maya civilization participated in long distance trade with many of the other Mesoamerican cultures, including Teotihuacan, the Zapotec and other groups in central and gulf-coast Mexico, as well as with more distant, non-Mesoamerican groups. For example the Tainos in the caribbean, also archaeologists found gold from Panama in the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza. Important trade goods included cacao, salt, sea shells, jade and obsidian.

THE  MAYA COLLAPSE

For reasons that are still debated, the Maya centers of the southern lowlands went into decline during the 8th and 9th century and were abandoned shortly thereafter. This decline was coupled with a cessation of monumental inscriptions and large-scale architectural construction. Although there is no universally accepted theory to explain this “collapse,” current theories fall into two categories: non-ecological and ecological.

Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into several subcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change. There is evidence that the Maya population exceeded carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and overhunting of megafauna. Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to the collapse of Maya civilization. The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds, ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community.



POSTCLASSIC PERIOD

 

During the succeeding Postclassic period (from the 10th to the early 16th century), development in the northern centers persisted, characterized by an increasing diversity of external influences. The Maya cities of the northern lowlands in Yucatán continued to flourish for centuries more; some of the important sites in this era were Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Edzná, and Coba. After the decline of the ruling dynasties of Chichen and Uxmal, Mayapan ruled all of Yucatán until a revolt in 1450. (This city's name may be the source of the word 'Maya', which had a more geographically restricted meaning in Yucatec and colonial Spanish and only grew to its current meaning in the 19th and 20th centuries). The area then degenerated into competing city-states until the Yucatán was conquered by the Spanish.

The Itza Maya, Ko'woj, and Yalain groups of Central Peten survived the 'Classic Period Collapse' in small numbers and by 1250 reconstituted themselves to form competing city-states. The Itza maintained their capital at Tayasal, an archaeological site thought to underlay the modern city of Flores, Guatemala on Lake Petén Itzá. It ruled over an area extending across the Peten Lakes region, encompassing the community of Eckixil on Lake Quexil. The Ko'woj had their capital at Zacpeten. Postclassic Maya states also continued to survive in the southern highlands. One of the Maya kingdoms in this area, the K'iche', is responsible for the best-known Maya work of historiography and mythology, the Popol Vuh.

COLONIAL PERIOD

Spanish conquest of Yucatán

Shortly after their first expeditions to the region, the Spanish initiated a number of attempts to subjugate the Maya and establish a colonial presence in the Maya territories of the Yucatán Peninsula and the Guatemalan highlands. This campaign, sometimes termed 'The Spanish Conquest of Yucatán,' would prove to be a lengthy and dangerous exercise for the conquistadores from the outset, and it would take some 170 years before the Spanish established substantive control over all Maya lands.

Unlike the Spanish campaigns against the Aztec and Inca Empires, there was no single Maya political center which once overthrown would hasten the end of collective resistance from the indigenous peoples. Instead, the conquistador forces needed to subdue the numerous independent Maya polities almost one by one, many of which kept up a fierce resistance. Most of the conquistadores were motivated by the prospects of the great wealth to be had from the seizure of precious metal resources such as gold or silver; however, the Maya lands themselves were poor in these resources. This would become another factor in forestalling Spanish designs of conquest, as they instead were initially attracted to the reports of great riches in central Mexico or Peru.

The Spanish Church and government officials destroyed Maya texts and with it the knowledge of Maya writing, but by 'good fortune' three of the pre-columbian books dated to the post classic period have been preserved.

The last Maya states, the Itza polity of Tayasal and the Ko'woj city of Zacpeten, were continuously occupied and remained independent of the Spanish until late in the 17th century. They were finally subdued by the Spanish in 1697.

MAYA  ART

 

A stucco relief from Palenque depicting Upakal K'inichMany consider Maya art of their Classic Era (c. 250CE to 900 CE) to be the most sophisticated and beautiful of the ancient New World. The carvings and the reliefs made of stucco at Palenque and the statuary of Copán are especially fine, showing a grace and accurate observation of the human form that reminded early archaeologists of Classical civilizations of the Old World, hence the name bestowed on this era. We have only hints of the advanced painting of the classic Maya; mostly what have survived are funerary pottery and other Maya ceramics, and a building at Bonampak holds ancient murals that survived by serendipity. A beautiful turquoise blue color that has survived through the centuries due to its unique chemical characteristics is known as Maya Blue or Azul maya, and it is present in Bonampak, Tajín Cacaxtla, Jaina, and even in some Colonial Convents. The use of Maya Blue survived until the 16th century when the technique was lost. Some Pre Classic murals have been recently discovered at San Bartolo, and are by far the finest in style and iconography, regarded as the Sistine Chapel of the Maya. With the decipherment of the Maya script it was discovered that the Maya were one of the few civilizations where artists attached their name to their work.

ARCHITECTURE

As unique and spectacular as Greek or Roman architecture, Maya architecture spans many thousands of years; yet, often the most dramatic and easily recognizable as Maya are the fantastic stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond.

There are also cave sites that are important to the Maya. These cave sites include Jolja Cave, the cave site at Naj Tunich, the Candelaria Caves, and the Cave of the Witch. There are also cave-origin myths among the Maya. Some cave sites are still used by the modern Maya in the Chiapas highlands.

It has been suggested that, in conjunction to the Maya Long Count Calendar, every fifty-two years, or cycle, temples and pyramids were remodeled and rebuilt. It appears now that the rebuilding process was often instigated by a new ruler or for political matters, as opposed to matching the calendar cycle. However, the process of rebuilding on top of old structures is indeed a common one. Most notably, the North Acropolis at Tikal seems to be the sum total of 1,500 years of architectural modifications. In Tikal and Yaxhá, there are the Twin Pyramid complexes (7 in Tikal and 1 in Yaxhá, that commemorate the end of a Baktún)

Through observation of the numerous consistent elements and stylistic distinctions, remnants of Maya architecture have become an important key to understanding the evolution of their ancient civilization.

                          

WRITING AND LITERACY

The Maya writing system (often called hieroglyphs from a superficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing) was a combination of phonetic symbols and logograms. It is most often classified as a logographic or (more properly) a logosyllabic writing system, in which syllabic signs play a significant role. It is the only writing system of the Pre-Columbian New World which is known to completely represent the spoken language of its community. In total, the script has more than a thousand different glyphs, although a few are variations of the same sign or meaning, and many appear only rarely or are confined to particular localities. At any one time, no more than around 500 glyphs were in use, some 200 of which (including variations) had a phonetic or syllabic interpretation.




Most surviving pre-Columbian Maya writing is from stelae and other stone inscriptions from Maya sites, many of which were already abandoned before the Spanish arrived. The inscriptions on the stelae mainly record the dynasties and wars of the sites' rulers. Also of note are the inscriptions that reveal information about the lives of ancient Maya women. Much of the remainder of Maya hieroglyphics has been found on funeral pottery, most of which describes the afterlife.

            Scribes held a prominent position in Maya courts. Maya art often depicts rulers with trappings indicating they were scribes or at least able to write, such as having pen bundles in their headdresses. Additionally, many rulers have been found in conjunction with writing tools such as shell or clay inkpots.

Although the number of logograms and syllabic symbols required to fully write the language numbered in the hundreds, literacy was not necessarily widespread beyond the elite classes. Graffiti uncovered in various contexts, including on fired bricks, shows nonsensical attempts to imitate the writing system.

MATHEMATICS

 

In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya used a base 20 (vigesimal) and base 5 numbering system. Also, the preclassic Maya and their neighbours independently developed the concept of zero by 36 BC. Inscriptions show them on occasion working with sums up to the hundreds of millions and dates so large it would take several lines just to represent it. They produced extremely accurate astronomical observations; their charts of the movements of the moon and planets are equal or superior to those of any other civilization working from naked eye observation.

In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya had measured the length of the solar year to a high degree of accuracy, far more accurate than that used in Europe as the basis of the Gregorian Calendar. They did not use this figure for the length of year in their calendar, however. The calendar they used was crude, being based on a year length of exactly 365 days, which means that the calendar falls out of step with the seasons by one day every four years. By comparison, the Julian calendar, used in Europe from Roman times until about the 16th Century, accumulated an error of only one day every 128 years. The modern Gregorian calendar is even more accurate, accumulating only a day's error in approximately 3257 years.

ASTRONOMY

Uniquely, there is some evidence to suggest the Maya appear to be the only pre-telescopic civilization to demonstrate knowledge of the Orion Nebula as being fuzzy,  not a stellar pin-point. The information which supports this theory comes from a folk tale that deals with the Orion constellation's area of the sky. Their traditional hearths include in their middle a smudge of glowing fire that corresponds with the Orion Nebula. This is a significant clue to support the idea that the Maya detected a diffuse area of the sky contrary to the pin points of stars before the telescope was invented. Many preclassic sites are oriented with the Pleiades and Eta Draconis, as seen in La Blanca, Ujuxte, Monte Alto, and Takalik Abaj.

The Maya were very interested in zenial passages, the time when the sun passes directly overhead. The latitude of most of their cities being below the Tropic of Cancer, these zenial passages would occur twice a year equidistant from the solstice. To represent this position of the sun overhead, the Maya had a god named Diving God.

The Dresden Codex contains the highest concentration of astronomical phenomena observations and calculations of any of the surviving texts (it appears that the data in this codex is primarily or exclusively of an astronomical nature). Examination and analysis of this codex reveals that Venus was the most important astronomical object to the Maya, even more important to them than the sun.

 

MAYA RELIGION

 

Like the Aztec and Inca who came to power later, the Maya believed in a cyclical nature of time. The rituals and ceremonies were very closely associated with celestial/terrestrial cycles which they observed and inscribed as separate calendars. The Maya priest had the job of interpreting these cycles and giving a prophetic outlook on the future or past based on the number relations of all their calendars. They also had to determine if the 'heavens' or celestial matters were appropriate for performing certain religious ceremonies. In prayer, Mayan priests and political elites pierced their earlobes, tongues, lips and even genitals, offering the drawn blood to favored deities. Everyday worship also involved making prayers to agricultural gods and goddess, providing deities with offerings of food, flowers, and other forms of tribute.

The Maya practiced human sacrifice. In some Maya rituals people were killed by having their arms and legs held while a priest cut the person's chest open and tore out his heart as an offering. This is depicted on ancient objects such as pictorial texts, known as codices. It is believed that children were often offered as sacrificial victims because they were believed to be pure. The Maya greatly respected death; they feared it and grieved deeply for the dead. They also believed that certain deaths were more noble than others; for example, people who died by suicide, sacrifices, complications of childbirth and in battle were thought to be transported directly into heaven. The guilty and evil suffered eternally in Xilbalba, the Maya underworld. Otherwise, death was thought of as a journey, with the possibility of rebirth. The Maya believed that certain individuals, important to their lineage, became deities that acted as patrons for the surviving family and many subsequent generations.

The Maya dead were laid to rest with maize placed in their mouth. Maize, highly important in Maya culture, is a symbol of rebirth and also was food for the dead for the journey to the otherworld. Similarly, a jade or stone bead placed in the mouth served as currency for this journey. The Maya associated the color red with death and rebirth and often covered graves and skeletal remains with cinnabar. The bodies of the dead were wrapped in cotton mantles before being buried. Burial sites were oriented to provide access to the otherworld. Graves faced north or west, in the directions of the Maya heavens, and others were located in caves, believed to be entrances to the underworld.

Much of the Maya religious tradition is still not understood by scholars, but it is known that the Maya, like most pre-modern societies, believed that the cosmos has three major planes, the underworld, the sky, and the earth.

Maya gods were not separate entities like Greek gods. The gods had affinities and aspects that caused them to merge with one another in ways that seem unbounded. There is a massive array of supernatural characters in the Maya religious tradition, only some of which recur with regularity. Good and evil traits are not permanent characteristics of Maya gods, nor is only 'good' admirable. What is inappropriate during one season might come to pass in another since much of the Maya religious tradition is based on cycles and not permanence.

It is sometimes believed that the multiple 'gods' represented nothing more than a mathematical explanation of what they observed. Each god was literally just a number or an explanation of the effects observed by a combination of numbers from multiple calendars. Among the many types of Maya calendars which were maintained, the most important included a 260-day cycle, a 365-day cycle which approximated the solar year, a cycle which recorded lunation periods of the Moon, and a cycle which tracked the synodic period of Venus.



Philosophically, the Maya believed that knowing the past meant knowing the cyclical influences that create the present, and by knowing the influences of the present one can see the cyclical influences of the future.

Even in the 19th century, there was Maya influence in the local branch of Christianity followed in Chan Santa Cruz. Among the K'iche's in the western highlands of Guatemala these same nine months are replicated, until this very day, in the training of the ajk'ij, the keeper of the 260-day-calendar called ch'olk'ij.

MAYAN PROPHECY 2012: Entering Our Galactic Day

          Many of us are aware of the Mayan calendar but not many people truly understand what it means and how it works. Yes the calendar does end on December 21, 2012, but what does that mean? How does it come to that?

          The Mayans had a very precise understanding of our solar system's cycles and believed that these cycles coincided with our spiritual and collective consciousness. The most significant of which has much to do with the 2012 prophecies.
         The Mayans prophesied that from 1999 we have 13 years to realize the changes in our conscious attitude to stray from the path of self-destruction and instead move onto a path that opens our consciousness to integrate us with all that exists.
         The Mayans knew that our Sun, or Kinich-Ahau, every so often synchronized with the enormous central galaxy. And from this central galaxy received a 'spark' of light which causes the Sun to shine more intensely producing what our scientists call 'solar flares' as well as changes in the Sun's magnetic field. The Mayans say that this happens every 5,125 years. But also that this causes a displacement in the earths rotation, and because of this movement great catastrophes would be produced.

         The Mayans believed the universal processes, like the 'breathing' of the galaxy, are cycles that never change. What changes is the consciousness of man that passes through it. Always in a process toward more perfection. Based on their observations, the Mayans predicted that from the initial date of the start of their civilization, 4 Ahau, 8 Cumku which is 3113 B.C., after one cycle being completed 5,125 years in their future, December 21st, 2012. The Sun, having received a powerful ray of synchronizing light from the center of the galaxy, would change its polarity which would produce a great cosmic event that would propel human kind to be ready to cross into a new era, The Golden Age. It is after this, that the Mayans say we will be ready to go through the door that was left by them, transforming our civilization based on fear to a vibration much higher in harmony.
        Only from our individual efforts could we avoid the path to great cataclysm that our planet will suffer to start a new era, the sixth cycle of the Sun. The Mayan civilization was in the fifth cycle of the Sun, and there were four other great civilizations before them that were destroyed by great natural disasters. They believed that each cycle was just one stage in the collective consciousness of humanity.
        In the last cataclysm of the Mayans, the civilization was destroyed by a great flood that left little survivors of which were their descendants. They believed that having known the end of their cycle, mankind would prepare for what is to come in the future and it is because of this that they would have preserved the dominant species; the human race. They say that coming changes will permit us to make a quantum leap forward in the evolution of our consciousness to create a new civilization that would manifest great harmony and compassion to all humankind.

       Their first prophecy talks about 'The Time of No-Time'. A period of 20 years, which they call a Katún. The last 20 years of the Sun's cycle of 5,125 years. This cycle is from 1992 - 2012. They predicted that during these times, solar winds would become more intense and could be seen on the Sun. This would be a time of great realization and great change for mankind. And it would be our own lack of preservation and contamination of the planet that would contribute to these changes. According to the Mayans, these changes would happen so that mankind comprehends how the universe works so we could advance to superior levels, leaving behind superficial materialism and liberating ourselves from suffering.

        The Mayans say, that seven years after the start of Katún, which is to say 1999, we would enter a time of darkness which would force us to confront our own conduct. They say that this is the time when mankind will enter 'The Sacred Hall of Mirrors'. Where we will look at ourselves and analyze our behaviors with ourselves, with others, with nature and with the planet in which we live. A time in which all of humanity, by individual conscious decisions, decides to change and eliminate fear and lack of respect from all of our relationships. The Mayans prophesied that the start of this period would be marked by a solar eclipse on August 11, 1999, known to them as 13 Ahau, 8 Cauac. And would coincide with an unprecedented planetary alignment, the 'Grand Cross' alignment. This would be the last 13 years of the Katón period. The last opportunity for our civilization to realize the changes that are coming at the moment of our spiritual regeneration.

        For the Mayans, everything is numbers and the time of the 13 sacred numbers started in August 1999. They predicted that along with the eclipse, the forces of nature would act like a catalyst of changes so accelerated and with such magnitude that mankind would be powerless against them. Also, that our technologies in which we rely on so much would begin to fail us. We would no longer be able to learn from our civilization in the way that we are organized as a society. They said that our internal, spiritual development would require a better place along with a better way to interact with more respect and compassion.
         The Mayan prophecy tells us that in 1999, our solar system began to leave the end of the fifth cycle which started in 3113 B.C. and that we find ourselves in the morning of our galactic day, exiting darkness and on the verge of being in plain day of our central galaxy in 2012. They say that at the beginning and end of these cycles, which is to say, every 5,125 years, the central sun or light of the galaxy emits a ray of light so intense and so brilliant that it illuminates the entire universe. It is from this burst of light that all of the Suns and planets syncronize. The Mayans compare this burst to the pulse of the universe, beating once every 5,125 years. It is these pulses that mark the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next. Each pulse lasting 20 years, a Katún.

         So we come back to what they call 'The Time of No Time'. It is an evolutionary period, short but intense, inside the grand cycles where great changes take place to thrust us into a new age of evolution as individuals and as mankind.

        As individuals we will have to make decisions that will affect us all. If we continue on this negative path of hate, an eye for an eye, destruction of nature, of fear and selfishness, we will enter straight into the time of destruction and chaos, and we will disappear as the dominant race of this planet. If we become conscious and realize that we all form part of a great organism, and that we should respect one another and be grateful to our planet, then we will move directly into positive growth, our Golden Age. Our planet, the Sun and the Galaxy are awaiting our decision. It is up to us what will happen in this time of change. Whether we go through a time of suffering and destruction, or we find ourselves united in one positive consciousness moving closer to our next stage.








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