Origin of the Mayan Civilization

The Mayans were an ancient civilization which existed thousands of years ago. They populated the regions of the Yucatán Peninsula, southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and a part of El Salvador.

They dominated these regions for thousands of years, building huge cities and enormous pyramids. Experts in Math and Astronomy, they excelled in agriculture and trade, and they even developed a very unique writing and number system, not to mention their calendrical systems. 

Maya

Stone Jaguar Heads

The Mayans developed a sophisticated literary culture, and many of their monuments and religious ceremonies are of great archaeological significance.

Archaeologists are now discovering even more astonishing things about the Maya, underneath the overgrowth of the jungle. The Maya left behind quite a mystery for the future to uncover…

Timeline

There is still debate about an exact timeline for the Maya, as new discoveries keep changing the history. A general consensus is that the earliest Mayan villages in Central America and Mexico, are dated back to as early as 2500 B.C. 

Great waring city states were established, and the Maya civilization prospered for thousands of years. 

Just before the Spanish arrived in Mesoamerica, the Maya began to disperse. This is a big mystery in the history and understanding of the civilization. 

 

The Mayans became the dominant power in Mesoamerica in the second half of the first millennium A.D. But the Maya were not the first civilization to emerge in this ancient land.

Pre Maya 

Before the Mayans established their Civilization, The Olmec and Zapotec people made their mark. The Olmec famous for their enormous stone heads, lived in southeastern Mexico, what is now the modern state of Tabasco. 

Olmec

Olmec Stone Head

La Venta is one famous site left by the Olmec, dating to around 1100 B.C. they left behind many amazing giant sculptures, pyramids, and monuments. Archaeologists say that the Olmec date back to about 1500 B.C.

The Zapotec culture, dating to around 700 B.C, pre date the Maya. They ruled in the region that is now Oaxaca Mexico. One major site the Zapotec built, is a large pyramid complex called Monte Alban. 

Piecing together the chronology of the city through pottery, archaeologists have pieced together 2000 years of history for this ancient city. Divided into 5 parts of history, this one city in Oaxaca Mexico has a rich and deep past. 

Pre Classic

Generally the Pre Classic period for the Maya describes the civilizations beginning. From settlers to villages, the Maya began to establish their culture. They begin constructing their first ceremonial city’s and temples.

Around 750 B.C the Mayans establish their first city Nakbe in the northern Guatemalan lowlands. Nakbe is just a few kilometers south of the recently heralded El Miradaor, site and its massive pyramid La Danta.

One of the most famous Mayan archaeological sites, Tikal, was constructed in the Pre Classic period around the 4th century B.C. It is towards the end of the Pre Classic period the Maya start erecting massive cities all over southern Mexico and Central America. 

Classic Period

The Classic Period of the Maya is when the civilization flourished. 

In this period of Mayan history, many major city states battled with each other for power over certain regions.

King Pakal and his lineage start to build amazing temples at Palenque in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico. Including the temple of inscriptions, the palace, and the temple of the cross group. The history of Palenque stretches from 226 B.C. to 799 A.D. 

Palenque

Palenque

Although not as big as other Mayan sites like Tikal. Palenque is known for its massive amounts of monuments, glyphs, and reliefs that were preserved so well. It’s lineages of rulers also added to the history of Palenque. Including the famous Pakal, who ruled Palenque for 68 years. 

Tikal one of the biggest Mayan sites known today, was a powerful city state in the Classic Period. Tikal reigned over a large part of the Guatemala lowlands and part of Mexico during its rule. 

Many cities all over Mesoamerica flourished in this period.

Copan in Honduras

Bonampak in southern Mexico

Chichen Itza and Uxmal in the Yucatan 

After the flowering of the Classic Period, the Maya began to gradually fall…

Post Classic Period 

Mayapan one of the last city’s of the Maya was built in the late Post Classic period around 1220 A.D. The city contains thousands of structures. Eventually abandoned in the middle of the 14th century. 

There are many theories of why the Maya abandoned their cities. Some say overpopulation, some say drought or war, but we still do not know exactly why.

Maya

Mayan Ruins

After thousands of years the Mayan civilization passed into history. The ancient settlements vanished, but traces of their existence in the form of structures are being discovered every year.

Did the ancient Mayans have a longer recorded history than previously thought? With the new discoveries, archaeologists are now claiming that the Mayans may have solidified their culture in the Pre Classic period.

New Discoveries 

Using LIDAR, a light detection and ranging technology. Archaeologists have been able to see through the jungle from above and scan the forest floor. 

This technology has changed the whole perception of the Mayan city Tikal. Archaeologists are now saying that ten to fifteen million people once lived in this region. 

LIDAR has revealed numerous previously undiscovered structures. Leading to new theories about the Maya.

The Maya People Still Live

The Ancient Mayans are gone, but the Maya people still live in modern day Central America, and Mexico. They carry on their past with oral tradition and ceremony. 

Traveling through the Yucatan and Guatemala, one can see the Maya people are still here.

Conclusion

Thankfully the Mayans were obsessed with their calendars and recording the dates of major events. They recorded astrological events, war related events, they also preserved lineages and recorded the dates kings and queens would ascend to the throne.

The history of the Mayan civilization survived on pottery locked away in secret burial chambers, hidden inside the pyramids. Survived on large carved monuments called “stela”, and the remaining codices that escaped the cultural destruction by the  Spanish.

Preserved by time and the aggressive jungle, hiding pyramids and almost the whole civilization under the trees. 

The Pre-Hispanic Mayan culture was the most advanced ancient civilization on the American continent, and existed for over 2,000 years from 800 BC to 1440 AD.

Mayan Calendar Gen 2 Graphic

First, a fire ceremony

On January 25th 2020 fires all across Central America were lit, to celebrate a sacred day in the Mayan Calendar “Wajxaqib Batz” or 8 Monkey.

Passed down through thousands of years of oral tradition, the Mayan Calendar is still used throughout Central America and Southern Mexico.

It is on this day “Wajxaqib Batz” or 8 Monkey that new Mayan day-keepers known as Aj'qij are initiated.

As a spiritual guide for the community the Aj'qij perform fire ceremonies, readings, to preserve the Mayan Calendar.

There are multiple Mayan calendars

There are actually many different “Mayan Calendars” that all have their own specific meaning and use.

All together they work like gears in a machine, like cogs on a wheel they fit together to create a system of cycles.

Tzol'Kin

Mayan Pyramids How Old

Tzol'kin Mayan Calendar

The Tzol'kin or Chol'qi is the spiritual calendar of the Maya and literally translates to “order of days”.

This 260-day calendar is made up of 20 "archetypes" (also called Nawals)...

-Monkey (B'atz')              

-Path (E')

-Transformation (Aj)

-Jaguar (I'x)

-Eagle (Tz'ikin)

-Vulture (Ajmaq)

-Knowledge (No'j)

-Flint (Tijax)

-Storm (Kawuq)

-Sun (Junajpu)

-Crocodile (Imox)

-Wind (Iq')

-Dawn (Aq'ab'al)

-Net (K'at)

-Serpent (Kan)

-Death (Kame)

-Deer (Kej)

-Rabbit/Ripening (Q'anil)

-Payment (Toj)

-Dog (Tz'i')

...and 13 numbers or intentions.

1 Initiation (Jun)

2 Duality (Keb')

3 Action/ Multiplication (Oxib')

4 Stability (Kajib')

5 Empowerment (Job')

6 Flow (Wakib')

7 Reflection (Wukub')

8 Justice/ Harmony (Wajxaquib')

9 Patience/ Transformation (Belejeb')

10 Manifestation (Lajuj)

11 Resolution (Julajuj)

12 Understanding (Kab'lajuj)

13 Ascension (Oxlajuj)

The Nawals and Numbers combine

In collaboration, these 20 archetypes and 13 numbers create 260 unique days.

This calendar is used to determine ones character or personality, life path, and destiny.

The Tzol'kin Calendar is an understanding of time as consciousness for the Maya, and with each new day comes ruling energy or spirit.

An interesting fact about the Mayan culture is that the day you are born, in the Tzol'kin Calendar would be your name.

The Haab Calendar

Mayan Calendar

The Haab Calendar

The Haab is a solar calendar of 365 days, similar to the Gregorian, is made up of 18—20 day months with a short 5 day month at the end called the “Wayeb”.

The first day of every Haab month starts at 0, which is also described as the seating of the month and ends at 19.

Each month has it's own significance and purpose in the Mayan year.

Month's of the Haab

Haab months

The Haab Months

-Pop (Mat)

-Uo' (Frog)

-Zip (Red)

-Zotz (Bat)

-Tzec (no translation)

-Xul (Dog)

-Yaxkin (Green/ First Sun)

-Mol (Water/ Jade)

-Chen (Cave)

-Yax (Green)

-Zac (White)

-Keh (Red)

-Mac (Close)

-Kankin (Yellow Sun)

-Muwan (Moaning Bird)

-Pax (Planting)

-Kayab (Turtle)

-Kumku (Ripen)

-Wayeb (5 Nameless/ Unfortunate days)

Both the Tzol'kin and the Haab are used in conjunction. Together they create an approximately 52-year cycle before repeating.

This phasing of days and calendars is a common theme with Mayan time science and lends itself to a broad philosophy that there are cycles within cycles...

Supplementary Series (Night Lords/Lunar)

The Night Lord System is a 9-day cycle, that is associated with 9 “Lords of the Night”.

Also referred to as the “G series” the names of these 9 Lords are unknown.

Also part of the supplementary series is a 29 and 30-day Lunar Calendar.

Little was known about these measurements made by the Maya. Until John E.

Teeple an American researcher, discovered a correlation between glyph's at the Mayan site of Palenque.

The Long Count

Calendar

Long Count

The Long Count Calendar is a 5,125-year cycle, that encompasses all of the calendars in a  written form. 

There is no known Mayan word for this calendar system, so the nickname “Long Count” was given based on the size of the cycle and detail used to record the date.

Usually carved into stone monuments known as “stella's” these dates are found throughout Mayan Archaeological sites.

In fact, the earliest recorded Long Count date was discovered in an Olmec site, which predates the Mayans.

The Mayans used the Long Count to record dates within this cycle of 5,125 years, using 5 numeral systems.

20 day's or K'in= 1 Uinal (20 days)

18 Uinal's= 1 Tun (360 days)

20 Tun's= 1 Katun (7,200 days)

20 Katun's= 1 Baktun (144,000 days)

13 Baktun's= The entire Long Count Cycle

The Long Count Cycle in total is 13 “Baktun's” long 1,872,000 days or 5,125 years.

Written in descending order from largest to smallest; these dates were recorded vertically, starting with the corresponding Baktun.

Following these 5 Long Count numerals, you would have the Haab, Tzol'kin, and Night Lord dates.

Creation Date and 2012

Aztec

Aztec Calendar

The Maya would record dates using this system in relevance to a “creation date”, which has been theorized to be August 11th 3114 B.C.  Or 4 Ahau 8 Kumku.

In Mayan Mythology this  date is the 4th creation of the Universe. 5,125 years later is where we get the date December 21st, 2012.

Because of the 2012 phenomena, most people think that the Mayan Calendar ended on December 21st 2012. In reality, the Mayan Calendar does not have an ending, it is a cyclical calendar, after the end of one cycle begins a new one.

The Dream-spell Calendar and Jose Arguelles

Created by Jose Arguelles in the late 1980s the Dream-spell or 13 moon calendar is based on the Mayan Tzol'kin calendar. Arguelles transformed the calendar to fit a New Age style and adopted new concepts such as the I Ching.

The Dream-spell also takes into account a “time-shift” and differs from the Tzol'kin by 52 days.

Although there is much controversy over its legitimacy, it has gathered many followers and even garnered more attention than the traditional calendar.

Use of The Mayan Calendar today

mayan

Temple of Kukulkan

Traveling to Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, one can see that the calendar is still tightly interwoven into the culture.

Thousands of Archaeological sites still remain including some of the largest pyramids in the world.

Many people are involved in the study of the Mayan culture and its calendars.

The 2012 phenomena, even though discrediting the calendar for a fictitious apocalyptic event, has ironically injected interest from all over the world.

Now post December 21st, 2012 people are practicing and using the Mayan Calendar in new and interesting ways.

Even though the Mayan Civilization is ancient history, the Mayan people are not, and still carry on their traditions today.

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