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The mystery of the Maya slowly reveals new twists.

Mayan pyramids now one of New Seven Wonders of the world.

Will The Apocalypse Occur On December 21, 2012?

The Mayan Popol Vuh (sacred book) points to a coming cataclysmic event, an apocalypse, the beginning of a totally new era for mankind.

This apocalyptic event will occur, according to the Mayan Long Calendar, on December 21, 2012  when the Earth and Sun align with the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

Visit ground zero, Chichen Itza Mayan ruins and the Edzna Maya temples where  Apocalypto, Mel Gibson's movie was filmed.

The ancient Maya have fascinated scholars and the general public for centuries. Images of Mayan ruins, temples and  jungle covered lost cities have teased our imaginations. A mysterious collapse of this great civilization left its mighty temples and pyramids abandoned. Why?

The Maya trail weaves through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Our Mundo Maya (Maya World) website offers a unique view of this little known yet much studied civilization because it exposes for the holiday traveler or scholar a wide variety of archaeological sites spanning the lifetime of the Maya.

The Maya spread out over the highland areas of Central America and soon reached a population size where they began to form small settlements and domesticate plants. Archaeologists are able to date finds and sites of the Mayan civilization using artifacts of ceramic, stone, shells and bone.

Mayans used a complex calendar system. Monumental stone inscriptions were carved using a hieroglyphic script and a method of reckoning the passage of time called the Long Count. The most striking feature of this system is that the Mayans dated events to the exact day.

Archaeologists have deciphered three major periods of Mayan Civilization - the Preclassic, Classic and Postclassic periods. The fruition of the Mayan civilization corresponds to the later years of the Roman Empire. 

Mayan civilization started in the Preclassic period, rose to dominance in the Classic period, and declined and disappeared in the Postclassic period.

A brief chronology:

Early Preclassic - 2000 BC to 1000 BC
Initial farming settlements
Middle Preclassic - 1000 BC to 300 BC
Expanding populations across Mesoamerican lowlands
Late preclassic - 300 BC to 250 BC
Settlements in Northern Belize reach prominence

As time progressed, the sites became more numerous and larger. The sites exhibited more organization with public buildings, elaborate burials, and jade jewelry. Jade became a spectacular marker of the elite, both in quantity owned and in the quality of the workmanship.

Near the end of the Preclassic Period, trading flourished as networks formed between the growing settlements. Most of the major ceremonial centers, including many in Belize, were started about this time. But by far the most important site of this period in Belize, as far as archaeologists are concerned, was Cuello.

The Classic Period is the Mayan Golden Age. Mesoamerica became adorned with massive, ornate and brightly colored architecture. Exquisite works of art and advances in astronomy and mathematics are hallmarks of this Period. This was the age of the development of one of the most sophisticated systems of writing ever devised in the Western Hemisphere.

The Classic period began with the carving of the first hieroglyphic dates on Mayan stelae in 250 A.D. and ended six and a half centuries later with the last dates carved into half finished monuments, as if the artisans walked away in mid hammer stroke. Most of the greatest ceremonial centers in Mesoamerica - Tikal, Caracol, Palenque - came to their greatest glory during the Classic period. And for some yet unknown reason, all were abandoned or far into decline within a span of a few years near the end of the ninth century.

Much of what Archaeologists know of the Mayan Civilization comes from archeological work done on Classic Period sites. Scientists originally constructed a model of Mayan society as a ceremonial center supported by widely spaced subsistence communities. But intense study on the agricultural practices revealed that the Maya used highly sophisticated techniques to feed a dense and growing population surrounding the ceremonial centers. 

These practices included terracing of hillsides and river banks. Terracing allowed intense agriculture of land otherwise unsuitable for crops. Using drainage ditches and irrigation, Mayan farmers maintained corn fields and harvested such diverse crops as manioc, sweet potatoes, and beans. Of great importance was the ramon nut. Large underground chambers were constructed to store the ramon nuts for long periods of time. Some archaeologists theorize that these storage chambers were used in time of famine.

The Classic Maya augmented their starch diet of vegetables and nuts with animal protein. The main source of meat came from hunting the abundant white tailed deer, along with the small brocket deer and two species of wild pig. The Classic Maya also collected turtles and large numbers of freshwater snails.

Emphasis traditionally has been on the large ceremonial centers of the time. However, recently, archaeologists have taken a close look at the entire social structure, and have concentrated on the small Mayan settlements and the rural farmers which supported the Mayan Civilization through the production of food. These subsistence farmers lived in dwellings very similar to the Maya of today. Most homes were constructed of perishable material harvested from the forests.

The structure of Mayan society centered around a major ceremonial site. A regional trading system would integrate the products of outlying areas with minor ceremonial sites and eventually with the major ceremonial center. Well developed causeways, called sacbeobs ("white roads" from the plastered surfaces) radiated out from the major sites in all directions toward the minor sites.

The Classic Period chronology has been developed based on the rise, flourishing, and steady decline of the Mayan Civilization. Some archaeologists also base these divisions of the period on the influences of major ceremonial centers on all of Mesoamerica and the Mayan Civilization as a whole. Following is a breakdown of the Mayan Classic Period chronology:

  • Early Classic - A.D. 250-400
  • Middle Classic - A.D. 400-700
  • Late Classic - A.D. 700-900

Archaeologists and other researchers debate what triggered the rise of the Mayan Civilization and why this once great civilization collapsed. The period that followed the abandonment of the rainforest centers is known as the Postclassic Period. This Period closes upon the Spanish Conquest in the mid-sixteenth century.

The Post Classic period is characterized by a lack of emphasis on tall pyramids and elaborate structures. Instead, the Maya concentrated on ground level buildings and created their art on stucco which quickly erodes. In fact much less is known of the Maya in the Post Classic Period than in the Classic Period because of the lack of art, artifacts and structures from the Post Classic Period.

The collapse of Mayan civilization may have been triggered by a number of factors. Population was probably one of these. Parts of the Mayan region were sustaining nearly 400 people per square mile - a heavy density for an agriculturally based society.

Malnutrition and disease may have been contributing factors. Studies of human bones have found strong evidence of communicable diseases such as syphilis.

The social gulf between the ruling elite and the common people is another factor that archaeologists feel contributed to the decline of the civilization.

Some researchers feel that the breakdown of trade contributed greatly to the collapse. Archeologists believe that "realms" may have been established where outlying districts provided items of trade. These items were brought to a central location for redistribution. These economic links become vulnerable during times of stress and change.

Causes for the Mayan collapse are complex and varied, and not well understood but the consequences of the collapse are clear. Construction of ceremonial centers stopped; the intensive farming methods ceased; the population dropped from an estimated three million to 450,000 in less then a century.

The Maya had a complex social system. Basically, the hierarchy consisted of a local elite which organized farming settlements and extracted crops and labor to provide for their own needs. These local elite in turn supported a central bureaucracy of overlords enthroned at major ceremonial centers. These major centers supported armies and were distribution centers for food resources.

It is important to remember that the Mayan Civilization consisted of much more then these major ceremonial centers. The majority of the population were small subsistence farmers - much as they are today.

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The mystery of the Maya slowly reveals new twists.

Mayan pyramids now one of New Seven Wonders of the world.

Will The Apocalypse Occur On December 21, 2012?

The Mayan Popol Vuh (sacred book) points to a coming cataclysmic event, an apocalypse, the beginning of a totally new era for mankind.

This apocalyptic event will occur, according to the Mayan Long Calendar, on December 21, 2012  when the Earth and Sun align with the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

Visit ground zero, Chichen Itza Mayan ruins and the Edzna Maya temples where  Apocalypto, Mel Gibson's movie was filmed.

All images used are property of their respective owners.

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