Maya, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.
The ancient Mayas were a population settled in Mesoamerica where they developed a civilization known for art, architecture, refined mathematical and astronomical systems, and writing, the only known writing system fully developed in pre-Columbian Americas. Mayan civilization developed into an area that includes today’s Mexican southeastern, Guatemala and Belize, as well as western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. Usually, the history of Mayan civilization is divided into three main periods: pre-classical, classical, and post-classical. The beginning or end dates of a given period may also vary by a century depending on the author or the reference text. The pre-classic period extends around 2000 BC and 250 DC, followed by the classical period, about 250 dC. at 950 d.C. and the Postclassic since 950 d.C. in the middle of the 16th century. In 1511, a Spanish caravel wrecked in the Caribbean and about a dozen survivors landed on the Yucatan coast where they were captured by a Maya; almost all the prisoners were sacrificed, but two were spared and one of these, nine years later, became Hernán Cortés’s interpreter. Following the Spanish conquest, most of the characteristics of the Mayan civilization disappeared. However, many settlements remained distant from the Spanish colonial authorities, and some were able to continue living independently so that Mayan communities and families could maintain their traditional daily life. Catholic missionaries wrote detailed Mayan accounts in support of their efforts to evangelize and absorb this population in the Spanish empire, leaving detailed descriptions of the ruins they found in the Yucatan and Central America. During the nineteenth century cataloging and retrieval of Ethno-historical finds and the first studies to decipher hieroglyphs were seen. Unlike Aztecs and Inca, the Mayans have never, throughout their history, integrated into a single state or empire: in fact, they were characterized by a set of the city-state and small realms.
These units, however, often interacted with each other in complex networks of rivalries, vassals, and alliances. In common with other populations of Mesoamerica, the Mayans believed in a supernatural kingdom inhabited by a number of powerful gods, which had to be sacrificed with ceremonial offerings and ritual practices. There had been several worlds: each one had perished in a flood and was expecting another flood. The Mayan universe, like the Manichean, was troubled by the perpetual struggle between the powers of evil and good.
Good brought rain, fertility, and abundance; badness led to drought, hurricanes, and wars. At the center of the Mayan religious practice, there was the cult of the dead ancestors, those who would act as intermediaries among their living descendants with the inhabitants of the supernatural kingdom.
The first intermediaries between man and the supernatural kingdom were, however, the shamans. Blood was considered to be a powerful source of nourishment for the Mayan gods and a necessary fact to maintain the balance of the cosmos, so the sacrifice of a living creature was an important supply of blood. By extension, the sacrifice of a human life could be the ultimate offering of blood to the gods, and so the most important Maya rites culminated in human sacrifice. The Mayans believed in a great variety of divinities, supernatural entities, and sacred forces.
They used to extensively interpret what they considered sacred and identified the gods with specific events, there were also gods with a special jurisdiction over the chronological periods in which time was divided, others were still reserved for each day separately and every number had his god. The interpretation of the Mayan deities was intrinsically linked to the calendar, astronomy and their worldview. The importance of a divinity, its characteristics, and its associations varied according to the movement of the celestial bodies. Itzamna was the Creator God, but he also embodied the cosmos and was at the same time the sun god.
The Popol Vuh was written in Latin characters during the early colonial times and it was probably the transcription of a hieroglyphic book composed by an unknown noble K’iche.
It is one of the most important works of the indigenous literature of the Americas. The Popol Vuh tells the myth of the creation of the world, the legend of the Gemini Heroes, and the history of the post-class Kingdom of K’iche. The Maya made meticulous observations of celestial bodies and patiently recorded the astronomical data on the movements of the Sun, Moon, Venus and the stars.
There are hundreds of Mayan sites spread across five states: Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The six sites considered particularly outstanding due to their architecture or sculpture are Chichen Itza, Palenque, Uxmal and Yaxchilan in Mexico, Tikal in Guatemala and Copán in Honduras.
Maya, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.
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