Between dreams of travel, writing novels, blog posts, going thrifting with Kendra and killing zombies, Scott is a huge lover of ancient Civilizations. From Egypt to South America and everything in between, he loves to learn about their cultures, belief systems and more. Once a month here at Loose Leaf Dreams, Scott will share with us a different civilization and teach us some fun facts about their lives, ideas and more.
Ancient Maya on the map via Lost Civilizations
First appearing between 2600 and 1800 B.C. the Mayan civilization didn’t truly rise to power until about 250 A.D. Like most of the natives of the Yucatan Peninsula, they borrowed a lot from the Olmecs, including the basics of their exemplary calendar system and their hieroglyphic writing system, both the most complex found in the ancient Americas.
The first Mayans were most likely corn farmers, indeed most of the tribes in this area survived primarily off corn. They managed to clear out large portions of rain forest to create growing plains and develop underground reservoirs to catch rainwater when water was otherwise scarce. Eventually a leader, by the name of Kukulcan, led the migration to the final site of the civilization.
Mesoamerica Pyramid via History Channel
At first, the empire was united under a single ruler, although provincial kings ruled over the four separate tribes, until a revolution around the 11th century passed supreme rule to another tribe, then another around the 15th century effectively ended Mayan unity. Several city-states developed at this time (18 are said to have existed by the time the Spanish arrived.).
While the Mayans were less violent and warlike than their cousins the Aztecs (think Athenians vs Spartans) they would still raid nearby city states for supplies and often captives. In fact some sources say that a king could not assume power unless he sacrificed a captive he took in war. However more common was bloodletting, offering up one’s own blood as a sacrifice, predominantly the king would partake, even low class farmers would on occasion.
Mesoamerica Pyramid via History Channel
The presence of female deities in the Mayan pantheon lends itself to the belief that (at least early) Mayans honored and revered women. Although, women would never assumed absolute power, a female ruler was not unheard of in Mayan society. Lady K’awil took over the region of Tonina after two male rulers were forcibly removed from the post for failing in their duties. This was really on true early on though, as men would eventual take over and subjugate women to household duties primarily including raising children, maintaining the house religious shrine, weaving, and possibly the raising of deer.
Day Symbols of the Mayan Calender
The Mayan calendar is actually consisted of three separate calendars, known as the Long Count, the Tzolkin, and the Haab. Put together these calenders work out to be one of the most accurate ever created (yes, even more than the current Gregorian one) but they would be so confusing to most people that we will never use it. It is still unsure when the calender date actually started; created only a few centuries BCE the actual start date is estimated a few millennium BCE.
The supposed “End days” of the Mayan calendar coming up is actually another “zero” date; however, as there was no actual “zero” date to begin with – it was listed 220.127.116.11.0. – it basically just counts as a calendar reset (due to its nature it is considered a linear count rather than cylindrical like most calendars so it is one of the few that actually “ends”.).
I think I’ll pick this up more later, I’m sure I’ve bored you all enough already.
Further reading & sources of information:
Lost Civilizations: Mayan History , History Channel: Maya , The Digital Mesh: Ancient Maya , Mayan History , Wiki: Gender in Maya Society , Woman in Inca and Mayan Cultures: Work , Wiki: 2012 Phenomenon , Calenders Through the Ages: The Mayan Calender , Ancient World Mysteries: Mayan Calender