Knowledge of the Mayan civilization largely disappeared after the Spanish conquest.
During a time where fascinations in Egypt (1822) and it’s hieroglyphs were large…
Publications by John Lloyd Stevens and Frederick Catherwood (1832-49) awakened new interest. (Their travels in the rainforests of the Chipas, the Guatemalan Peten, and across the Yucatan Savanah).
Stephens and Catherwood drew their attention to the stelae (stone slabs) glyphs along stairways. The fist attempt to understand the Mayan writing was in 1864- 1822, but to no avail.
Mayan glyphs remained the subject of considerable dispute, when it was argued that they recorded the history of the Mayan Cities. This help in the reconstruction of the dynastic history of the rulers of Tikal.
In 1973, there was a breakthrough when it was realized that the glyphs represented a spoken language with a fixed word order. (Identification of verbs, nouns, syntax and sound) The findings made evident the cultural coherence of the Maya world over a period of a thousand years.
Maya people (1) developed agriculture and (2) built villages. Swamp beds and riverbanks provided fertile material to plant maize, corn, cacao, and cotton. The Hondo, Usumacinta, and Grijalva Rivers provided access to sea. Farming settlements existed in the Tikal… would become the great classical-era site in the Peten, by AD 600.
Olmec influences lead to a social stratification in the middle of the Pre- Classic period (900-300 BC). Supported the emergence of kingship. The sharper division of wealth sustained a king.
The king symbolized the Tree of Life, contained the power required for communion with the other reality of the gods and supra- human entities.
DURING THE CLASSIC MAYA PERIOD (250-900) Divided into three categories: Early 250- 600 Late 600- 800 Terminal 800-900
No manuscripts survived in this era, so the stelae became the principal historical sources. (AD 199) From the early classical times, a thriving network of long distance trade connected the Mayan Lowlands and the Guatemalan highlands. Appearance of Mexican cults (Cult of Tlaloc in Tikal)
Yaxchilan (Chiapas bank of the Usumacinta River) and Uxmal (below Yucatan’s Puuc hills) both flourished in the 8 th and 9 th centuries.
Yaxchilan flourished through 320-790 (stone hieroglyphics), but declined in 790-810.
Uxmal reached its peak period between 850-925, only to be abandoned shortly after. Uxmal had large buildings with expertly crafted decorations. (REFER to Plate 6 on handout) The Puuc sites represented an extension of the late classical styles. (700-900)
The Palenque Kingdom ( in the Chiapas Rainforest) began in 431. Reached it’s maximum influence under: Pacal the Great (615-683) Chan-Bahlum (684-702) Kan-Xul (702 and 721) However, the power of the Palenque kings finally petered out by the end of the 8 th century. Tablets where Chan-Bahlum II wrote about his Kingship in Stephen and Catherwood’s Incidents of Travel in Central America.
RITUALS The rituals of the Maya were designed to harness the sacred energies.
Blood-letting stood at the centre of these religious sites. Human sacrifice. Shaman kings, whether by small drops of blood or by greater flows from the tongue or penis, gained a vision into the reality of the sacred energies beyond the material universe.
Obsidian blades, made from volcanic glass were used in ritual purposes.
However…Exaltation of dynastic kingship, combined with ritual propitiation of the gods did not save the Maya from collapse of urban life and high civilization after the 8 th century. Palenque to Copan Kingship collapsed… Great monuments were abandoned, in favor of peasant life. (2) Failure of the city-states led to the abandonment of literacy by the elite. Maya civilization however, did not come an end, but rekindled in the north of the plains of Yucatan (9 th century onwards)
What’s the Point? The Mayan Civilization, even though it had a diverse culture, network of cities, sustainable livelihood, and some form of political system, collapsed because of the misleading spiritual beliefs that led to irrational decisions, solely based on non-factual interpretations. Basic activities were abandoned because of misguidance.