Sunday, May 30, 2010

Interesting facts about Maya Civilization

Mayan calendar created by a modern craftsman
Mayan calendar created by a modern craftsman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    The Maya are a people of southern Mexico and northern Central America with some 3,000 years of rich history. Maya cities reached their highest state development during the Classic period (c. 250 AD to 900 AD), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish. At its peak, it was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world.They developed astronomy, calendars, and writings. They built elaborate pyramids, all without metal tools.

The rain forests of Mexico and Central America have a wide variety of animal life, including boas, coral snakes, and the deadly pit viper, called the Fer-de-lance. There are spiders, scorpions, bats, and stinging insects, including wasps. The world’s largest spotted cat, the jaguar, was hunted by the ancient Maya. Tikal was the busy city for the Mayas.At least 10,000 people lived within 6 square miles. In the main ceremonial area there are 200 stone monuments, known as Stelae.

The Maya desired some unnatural physical characteristics for their children. For instance, at a very young age boards were pressed on babies’ foreheads to create a flattened surface. This process was widespread among the upper class. Another practice was to cross babies’ eyes. To do this, objects were dangled in front of a newborn’s eyes, until the newborn’s eyes were completely and permanently crossed. Another interesting fact about Mayan children is that most were named according to the day they were born. Every day of the year had a specific name for both boys and girls and parents were expected to follow that practice.

The Mayans had many religious festivals honoring many gods, and sometimes heroes of Mayan Culture. Their gods symbolize everything from weather, harvest, birth, death, and war. The temples were large stone paramids, stacked like giant steps. The Mayans also had pilgrimage spots much like Middle Ages Europe. Some spots were Izamel and Cozumel. A common thing in Mayan religion is that priests would take on the name of a god in honor of that diety. One important thing about Mayan religion is the relative mildness of the religion. 

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. Often, whistles carved from rocks into the shapes of gods or animals were included in the grave offerings to help the deceased find their way to the spirit world.

The Mayans had many excellent medical practices. Medicine was practiced only by a select few men, called shamans Maya shamans had vast medical knowledge and skill. It is known that the Maya sutured wounds with human hair, reduced fractures, and were even skilled dental surgeons, making prostheses from jade and turquoise and filling teeth with iron pyrite.

The Mayans wrote in drawings or pictures called pictographs that has its own meaning. The maya people could write full sentences even write stories. Priests and nobles were the only people who knew how to read and write the whole language. The other most remarkable invention of Mayans is the Mayan Calender. The Mayan people called the calendar Tizolkin. In a Maya year there were 18 Months with 20 days in each month. They also had religious calendar. There are 5 unlucky days in the calendar.

An important purification element to the ancient Maya was the sweat bath, or zumpul-ché. Mayans were very much fond of chocolate. They called chocolate “The drink of the Gods”. Ancient Mayans also chewed gums produced from chicozapote trees to keep their teeth clean. 

The most remarkable Chichen Itza was built by the Mayans called the Itzles BC. About 800 years later the town was empty. The reason the people left is still a mystery.

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