Maya, the civilization that has the most alien appearance; Original article by Alessandro Brizzi.

The ancient Mayans 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 fully developed writing system in the pre-Columbian Americas. The law of the classical period centered around the concept of “king divinity“, which acted as a mediator between mortals and the supernatural realm.

Mayan divinity

Mayan divinity

Sovereign power was patrilineal and was normally passed to the eldest son. The Mayan policy was characterized by a closed system of patronage, although the exact administrative system varied from city to state. Towards the end of the classical period, the members of the aristocracy were numerically increased, with a consequent reduction of the exclusive power of the divine king. The Mayan civilization developed highly sophisticated art forms, using for their works both perishable and non-perishable materials, including wood, jade, obsidian, ceramics, carved stone, stucco and finely painted frescoes. The main buildings were the palaces, the pyramid-temples, the ball-playing fields and the structures dedicated to astronomical observation.

Mayan pyramids

Mayan pyramids

The elite Mayan class was able to read and write and develop a complex hieroglyphic writing system that was the most advanced of the pre-Columbian Americas. The Mayans collect their history and their knowledge in some books, of which only three are left, the rest were destroyed by the Spaniards. However, there are also a large number of testimonies found on stems and ceramics. The Maya developed a highly complex system of ritual calendars and their mathematics included one of the first cases of explicit zero in the world.

Mayan calendar

Mayan calendars

The pre-Columbian civilization of the Maya left numerous and extensive inscriptions and its writing system is considered one of the most extraordinary achievements of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas. It was certainly the most sophisticated and advanced writing system compared with more than a dozen other systems developed in Mesoamerica. The first identifiable inscriptions originating from the Mayan civilization date back to around 300-200 BC, and were found in the Petén basin. However, this writing system was preceded by several others found in Mesoamerica, such as the writings of the Olmec and the Zapotec.

Petén basin

Petén basin

The Catholic Church and colonial officials, in particular Bishop Diego de Landa, destroyed all the Mayan texts they found; however, by chance three surviving pre-Columbian manuscripts dating back to the post-classical period were found. These are known as the Madrid Code, the Dresden Code and the Paris Code.

Dresden Code

Dresden Code

Of a fourth, the Grolier code, only a few pages survive, of which even the authenticity is disputed. Further archaeological studies conducted at the Mayan sites have often allowed to bring to light rectangular fragments of plaster and paint that were previously codes; these remains, despite being seriously damaged, allowed the inscriptions to survive. The deciphering and recovery of the knowledge of the Mayan writing was a long and laborious process. Some elements have been interpreted between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most have to do with mathematics, the Mayan calendar and astronomy.

Astronomy

Astronomy

Substantial progress has been made between 1950 and 1970 and since then there has been a steady and rapid acceleration. At the end of the 20th century, scholars were able to read most of the Mayan texts and the current studies are aimed at further understanding the content. The chronology of the Maya was calculated from a fixed point of the past, just as the Christian starts from the birth of Jesus, the Greek from the first Olympic games and the Roman from the foundation of Rome.

Jesus

Jesus

Their calendar (the Long count) is anchored to a date, translated by archaeologists Goodman, Martinez and Thompson as August 11, 3113 BC, a date on which not all scholars agree. From the first centuries of the Christian era, their astronomical priests predicted eclipses with great precision and accurately established the course of Venus.

Venus

Venus

The Mayan calendar system, in common with other Mesoamerican calendars, has its origins in the pre-classical period. However, it was the Maya who developed it to the maximum of refinement, with the very accurate recording of lunar and solar cycles, eclipses and planetary movements. In some cases, Mayan calculations have proved more accurate than equivalent calculations performed in the Old World; for example, the Mayan solar year was calculated for greater precision than the Julian calendar. The Mayan calendar was intrinsically linked to rituals and was fundamental to religious practices. For the ancient Maya, the art of medicine was a complex mixture of mind, body, religion, rituals and science. Important for the entire population, however, it was practiced only by a select few, who generally inherited the practice after receiving extensive training. These shamans acted as a means between the physical world and the spiritual world, however, in addition to following religious practices they also had a certain technique. It is in fact known that the Mayans knew how to suture wounds with human hair, reduce fractures, treat bruises and were skilled dentists who made jade and turquoise prostheses and filling their decayed teeth with iron pyrite. The Mayans equated the illness with the imprisonment of their own soul by supernatural beings, outraged by some wrong behavior. For this reason, treating a disease involved a series of practices, such as rituals, purification and herbal remedies; several Mayan texts are dedicated to the treatment of symptoms, based on objective observations of the effects of some plants on the human system.

Mayan rituals

Mayan rituals

Particular plants were ingested, smoked, inspired, rubbed on the skin and also used in the form of enemas. Purification techniques included fasting, sweating and bleeding. The Mayans built a vast variety of structures, leaving a very important architectural heritage that places this people among the greatest pre-industrial civilizations in the world.

Mayan structures

Mayan structures

The architecture of the Maya also incorporates various art forms and hieroglyphic texts. The buildings made of masonry highlight their craftsmanship, as well as the strong centralized organization and the political means to mobilize such a large workforce. It is estimated that an imposing residence for the elite of the city of Copán may have required a labor force of 10,686 man days for its construction, given that it can be compared with the 67 man-days required for a common citizen’s hut . Overall, it is estimated that it took two to three months to complete the construction of this residence for a single nobleman from Copán, using between 80 and 130 full-time workers. A city of the classical period, like Tikal, spread over 20 square kilometers, with an urban core covering 6 square kilometers. The work required to build a city of this size was certainly immense, of the order of several million man-days. It has been observed that the Mayans preferred the color green or blue-green, and used the same term for both colors. Consequently, the stones of this color were for this civilization objects of great value and were associated with the sun-god K’inich Ajau. With these materials various artifacts were carved. The Mayan nobility used to set in the teeth of jade stones. Some funerary masks, such as that of K’inich Janaab ‘Pakal (the king of Palenque), were made with this stone.

K'inich Janaab 'Pakal

K’inich Janaab ‘Pakal

In common with the other peoples of Mesoamerica, the Mayans believed in a supernatural kingdom inhabited by a series of powerful deities, which had to be appeased with ceremonial offerings and ritual practices. There had been several worlds: each had perished in a flood and was expecting another flood.

Mayan flood

Mayan flood

The Mayan universe, like the Manichean universe, was troubled by the perennial struggle between the powers of evil and good. Good brought rain, fertility and abundance; evil brought drought, hurricanes and wars. At the center of Mayan religious practice was the worship of deceased ancestors, or those who would act as intermediaries between their living descendants with the inhabitants of the supernatural realm.

Mayan ancestors

Mayan ancestors

The first intermediaries between man and the supernatural kingdom, however, were the shamans. When the Mayan civilization developed, the elitist class codified the general concepts of their religion, assumed the role of principal intermediary towards the kingdom of the gods and created the divine presuppositions that justified their right to govern. In the late pre-classical period, the apex of this process was represented by the combination of the maximum political and religious power concentrated in the divine king: Ajaw k’uhul.

Ajaw k'uhul

Ajaw k’uhul

Although it is difficult to reconstruct the set of beliefs through archaeology, some ritual practices have left physical traces. Among them are the deposits of ritual ornaments, sanctuaries and burials with their grave goods offerings. Furthermore, Mayan art, architecture, and writings have helped scholars to reconstruct these ancient beliefs; all these elements can be combined with ethnographic sources, including records of the religious practices of the Mayan people made by the Spaniards during the conquest. The Mayans possessed a vision of the cosmos as a highly structured reality; there were thirteen levels in the heavens and nine levels in the underworld; the mortal world occupied a position between heaven and hell.

Mayan cosmos

Mayan cosmos

Each level had four cardinal points associated with a different color. The main deities were characterized by aspects associated with these directions and colors; to the north there was white, to the east red, to the south yellow and to the west there was black. Beliefs about supernatural forces influenced every aspect of Maya life, from the simplest daily activities, such as food preparation, business activities, politics and elite activities. The Mayan deities disciplined all aspects of the world, visible and invisible. The priests belonged to a closed group that drew its members to an established elite; at the beginning of the classical period they dealt with transcribing increasingly complex ritual hieroglyphics, astronomical observations, calendar cycles, history notes and mythology stories into their books.

Mayan mythology

Mayan mythology

The priests celebrated public ceremonies that included parties, bloodletting, incense, music, ritual dances, and, on certain occasions, human sacrifice. During the classical period, the Mayan ruler was considered the high priest and therefore direct contact between mortals and the gods. It is very likely that, among ordinary people, shamanism continued parallel to the official state religion. In the post-classical period, religious emphasis had changed; there was an increase in the worship of images of gods and a more frequent recourse to the practice of human sacrifice.

Mayan gods

Mayan gods

Itzamnà was the creator god, but he also embodied the cosmos, and was at the same time the sun god, K’inich Ahau, a sunny day, was one of its aspects.

Itzamnà

Itzamnà

The Mayan kings often identified with K’inich Ahau. Itzamnà also possessed a nocturnal aspect, the nocturnal jaguar, which represents the sun on its journey through the underworld. The four Pawatuns supported at the corners of the mortal kingdom in the heavens, Bakabs performed the same function. Bakabs boasted dozens of other forms, in addition to the usual four, which however were not well understood.

K'inich Ahau

K’inich Ahau

The four Chaacs were gods of the storm, who controlled the thunder, lightning and rain. The nine gentlemen of the night each ruled one of the kingdoms of the underworld. Other important deities included the goddess of the moon, the god of corn and the Twin Heroes. The god Chaac (or Chac) is a variant of the dragon god and has a sagging nose, spiral-shaped pupils, curved and serpentine tusks, holding an ax or a torch (rain or drought depends on him). In Yucatan we find it in the form of a geometric mask.

Chaac

Chaac

Funeral rites could predict either burial or cremation and usually mortal remains were buried under the floors of their homes, along with offers appropriate for the social status of the family. The Mayans believed that there could be dead people who could act as protective ancestors. The Mayan lineage was patrilineal, so a prominent male ancestor could be worshiped, often through a domestic sanctuary. As the Mayan society developed and the elite grew in power, the members of the royal families built their home shrines in the great pyramids they used as tombs for their ancestors.

Mayan tombs

Mayan tombs

The Mayans made meticulous observations of celestial bodies and patiently recorded astronomical data on the movements of the Sun, Moon, Venus and stars. This information was used to formulate divination, so for the Maya astronomy was essentially used for astrological purposes: it was not used to study the universe for scientific reasons, nor was it used to measure the seasons for calculating the sowing of crops.

Crop circle mayan

Crop circle mayan

It was rather used by priests to understand the cycles of the past and project them into the future to form prophecy. They believed, in fact, that similar events would occur in the future, when the same astronomical conditions would appear and therefore the priests carried out fine observations and recorded the eclipses of the Sun and Moon, as well as the movements of Venus and stars.

Sun

Sun

The illustrations in the codes show that the priests performed their astronomical observations with the naked eye, assisted by crossed sticks as a pointing device. The analysis of the few codes received from the post-classical period revealed that, at the time of contact with the Europeans, the Maya had produced tables with the registration of eclipses, calendars and had more accurate astronomical knowledge than those of Europeans.

Cognitio

Cognitio

The solar and lunar eclipses were considered as particularly dangerous events that could have led to a catastrophe on the world. In the Dresden Code, a solar eclipse is represented by a serpent devouring k’in (“day”). Eclipses were interpreted as the sun or the moon that suffered a bite and lunar tables were recorded so that the appropriate ceremonies could be foreseen and then performed to avert disaster.

Mayan serpent

Mayan serpent

Quote of Alessandro Brizzi

Well, with this very accurate description, we have a very clear design of the Maya, but something bitter in the mouth, an emptiness in our head remains, we don’t understand the fact of where the Mayans took their cue to evoke such divinities, that is we must it must have been a beginning, there must have been a figure that led them to believe in those things and I think even the Maya indeed … Above all the Mayans knew or at least interacted with the Ancient Aliens, many depictions represent strange forms of humanoids with animalistic or rather strange faces, the deities themselves are represented in extraterrestrial forms, because for example the Christians have always venerated a Jesus who has human features instead of peoples like the Maya, have worshiped forms that seemed almost out of a movie of science fiction? Here, let us always ask ourselves this question!

Maya, the civilization that has the most alien appearance

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Maya, the civilization that has the most alien appearance

Maya