Map

Map of Mesoamerica

The Maya civilization was spread throughout Southern Mexico and Central America. What was once ancient Mesoamerica, is now modern day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and parts of El Salvador. In this article we will discuss the locations of the most famous Mayan pyramids.

Yucatan Peninsula (the Mayan Riviera)

Pyramids

Tulum

The area in Mexico known as the Yucatan Peninsula was once a major center for the Mayan civilization. The first Maya were here long before the Spanish came, beginning along side the Olmec, and Toltec civilization.

Overlooking the ocean cliffs, Tulum flourished in the post-classic period between the 13th and 15th century,  Tulum in Mayan means "wall", and was a major trading port for the Maya in this area.

 

How Old Mayan Pyramids Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

This is one of the most famous pyramids in the Yucatán Peninsula, Chichén Itzá. The name of the pyramid is technically Temple of Kukulkan, but has been popularly named "El Castillo".

Why is the pyramid so important?

The position of the pyramid is so precise that every equinox, the light from the sun creates a lighting effect on the pyramid. This effect creates the illusion of a serpent descending from the sky along the edge of the pyramid. The pyramid was literally a giant physical calendar for the Maya.

During the late Classic period, Chichen Itza was a key focal point in the Northern Maya Lowlands. The site features a variety of structures, pyramids to ball courts. Thirteen ball courts have been discovered by archaeologists.

 

 

Chiapas, Mexico

Palenque

Palenque

The Palenque ruins lie on the edge of the jungle of Guatemala in the state of Chiapas in the south-west of Mexico. These immense pyramids are some of the most important Mayan monuments in Mexico.

Palenque is the home to some of the most important discoveries in Mayan archaeology. King Pakal, who's tomb was found inside the great Temple of the Inscriptions, ruled Palenque in the 6th century. During his reign he commissioned a massive building campaign, which has been preserved so well compared to other sites. His son Kan Balam, continued the building frenzy with the famous cross group of temples.

Tonina - Chiapas, Mexico

West of Palenque resides the site of Tonina, who were famous enemies of Palenque. Famous for it's massive terraces, stucco sculptures, and war like reputation.

Tonina is a far trek from any major city in Chiapas, sitting close to 3000 ft. above sea level in the Chiapas highlands.

Tikal - Northern Lowlands of Guatemala

Tikal

Temple of the Jaguar at Tikal

In the northern lowlands of Guatemala is the great site of Tikal.

How to Get to the Pyramids

The best way to explore Mayan sites in Mexico, is to base yourself out of one city for a few days while you explore the neighboring sites.

In Chiapas, Palenque is a great base camp to visit many sites. The city itself has the famous Palenque site, just down the road about ten minutes. From Palenque, you can book day trips to Yax Chilan, Bonampak, Tonina, and also many waterfalls like Agua Azul and Misol Ha.

In the Yucatan, you can either stay on the coast in Cancun or Inland in Merida. In-between these two major cities is Chichen Itza, which is a good day trip. There are many busses and van type tour companies you can book.

South of Merida is Uxmal, which is a very amazing Mayan site famous for the "magicians pyramid".

South of Cancun is Tulum, the Mayan pyramids overlooking the ocean.

Flores, Guatemala is another great base camp for exploring Mayan sites. The city of Flores is on Lake Peten, and has a very European vibe with its cobblestone streets and restaurants.

North of Flores is Tikal, which you can do in a day, but the bus ride is long so it is recommended to stay a night at the site in one of the hotels.

El Mirador, El Zotz, Yaxha  are some more adventures you can do out of Flores.

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.

Poking out of the lush green canopies of the Mayan jungles, are ancient ominous limestone structures. Rivaling the Pyramids of Egypt in size and in number, these overwhelming temples are still shrouded in mystery. These are the Mayan Pyramids. 

The Mayan pyramids are some of the largest and oldest structures in the world. Unlike the pyramids in Egypt, Mayan pyramids are ziggurat like step pyramids. With over 4,400 known mayan sites throughout Mexico and Central America, the Maya left a permanent mark in history. 

How Old Are the Mayan Pyramids?

Mayan Pyramids How Old

Tzol'kin Mayan Calendar

The Mayans civilization stretched over the span of thousands of years. Many kings and queens would go off on construction campaigns.

When the Mayan pyramids were first discovered, the pyramids had weathered severely. Some completely covered by the jungle, you would not even know you were standing on a pyramid. 

Many of the Mayan pyramids were built at different times. All over the Maya peninsula, there are cities that have still not been discovered.

Even well known Mayan archaeological sites continue to reveal more and more about the mysterious Mayans. Archaeologists are still uncovering new structures deep in the jungle, and the established knowledge and timeline is changing.

So how old are the Mayan pyramids? To answer this question, one needs to understand that the Mayan civilization was comprised of city states that were constantly at war with one another. City’s would rise and fall, change rulership, and literally be built on top of each other. 

Chichen Itza

How Old Mayan Pyramids Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

For example at Chichen Itza the famous pyramid “El Castillo” was built or enhanced onto an existing pyramid the Maya had built centuries previous. 

Archaeologists dub this former pyramid the substructure, and it is said to be built somewhere around 600 A.D. Hundreds of years later around 900 A.D the Maya complete the pyramid in honor of the god “Kukulkan”, which is the Mayan version of the Aztec god “Quetzalcoatl”. 

The Pyramid itself is a calendar. With a total number of 365 steps, representing their solar calendar “The Haab”. The temple also tracks the spring and autumn equinoxes, and is positioned so perfectly that on these two days triangles of light illuminate the staircase to form what looks like a serpent crawling down the pyramid from the sky.

Pyramids of Palenque

Ancient Palenque City

Palenque

In the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico lies one of the most beautiful mayan sites. Famous for its history of rulers, monuments and detailed inscriptions. Some of the city’s earlier structures date back to around 226 B.C. 

Temple of Inscriptions 

Palenque Pyramid

Temple of Inscriptions

Built by the infamous Lord Pakal around 675 A.D in the late Classic period, this massive 9 level pyramid gets its name from the many detailed inscriptions. At the top of the temple like platform, carved into the stone is 180 years of Palenque’s history. The pyramid houses a tomb where Pakal’s body is encased in an elaborate sarcophagus. 

Temple of the Cross, Sun, and Foliated Cross

Palenque Pyramids Cross Sun and Foliated Cross

Temple of the Sun

After Pakal’s death his son Kan Bahlam erected the three temples, to commemorate his lineage. Constructed in 692 A.D, these three pyramids all facing a central court yard are very unique.

Pyramids at Tikal

jaguar, stains, look

Jaguar

In the Guatemalan lowland jungles, the Mayans built an enormous city. Tikal was a massive city state that reigned for centuries. Flourishing in the classic period from around 200 A.D to 900A.D. 

Recent discoveries of raised highways and aqueducts, are rewriting the history books about this ancient city. Archaeologists are now saying that the area was home to close to ten million people. 

Tens of thousands of structures hidden by the jungle overgrowth still remain uncovered. 

Temple of the Jaguar

Guatemala Pyramid Jaguar Temple

Temple of the Jaguar

Tikal’s Temple of the Jaguar was constructed around 732 A.D. The temple is 180 ft tall and has 9 levels, representing the nine levels of the Mayan underworld Xibalba. 

Jasaw Chan K’awiil ruled Tikal in the Classic period, and was buried the Temple of the Jaguar’s tomb. 

The temple gets its name from a carving of a king sitting on a jaguar throne. Ironically enough this area is one of the few remaining bio reserves that is home to many wild jaguars.

El Mirador’s La Danta

 

North of Tikal, deeper into the dense jungle stands one of the largest pyramids in the world, La Danta. 

At the site of El Mirador, archaeologists have uncovered amazing carvings and reliefs that portray scenes from the Popol Vuh. Many of the structures at El Mirador are Pre Classic Maya. El Mirador lasted between 1000 B.C.- 250 A.D

La Danta is the largest Mayan pyramid at 236 feet tall, by volume La Danta is the largest in the world at 99 million cubic feet. 

Uxmal and the Magician’s Pyramid

At the Mayan site of Uxmal in the Yucatan Peninsula, is the Magicians Pyramid. A fairly large pyramid that was decorated with lattice type design. Uxmal thrived around 600 to 1000 A.D. It is said that the god Itzamna built the pyramid overnight, giving it the name “Magicians Pyramid”.

Civilization

The Mayan Civilization was a society that existed in Southern Mexico and Central America. Their existence has been uncovered through many archaeological discoveries.

The ruins of the Mayan Civilization still exist today, yet a large part of their knowledge, structures, and culture has been lost. This has created many questions about the origin of the Mayans, and how they became as advanced as they were.

Thousands of Years Ago

Pyramid

Mayan Pyramid

Before becoming the great Mayan civilization, the Maya people were hunter gatherers scattered throughout Mesoamerica. Evidence of this is found all over Central America and Southern Mexico.

In the beginning of the Pre Classic period the Maya were still farming settlements. Growing domesticated crops as early as 2500 B.C. such as vegetables and spices. Most famously corn or “maize”.

The Mayans believed that humans were created from corn and worshiped the maize god. This relationship with corn fueled their agricultural drive from the beginning, and played a major role in their development.

The question of when the Mayan civilization initially began remains up in the air and will probably remain that way for a long time. Some scholars estimate that the Maya formed as early as 2500 B.C. 

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact time for the emergence of the Mayan culture as an independent cultural identity. There are new discoveries every year that seem to change the perception of their timeline.

Around 600 B.C the Maya began creating larger settlements in the lowland jungles of Guatemala. The city Nakbe is one of the earliest known major sites for the Maya in this region. Its neighbor, El Mirador flourished around the same time as well. 

Before the Maya 

Monument

Mayan Monument

The Mayan culture arose through a series of cultures which developed around the region. Their predecessors, the Olmec and Zapotec, had been in southern Mexico long before the Maya. 

The Olmec established their culture around the 16th century B.C and were known for carving gigantic heads. 

The Zapotec civilization in the Oaxaca region began just before the Maya in 700 B.C. One of the largest cities in ancient Mesoamerica was built by the Zapotec.

The Pre Classic period is a time when the people of Central America are in their most rudimentary forms, and when the Maya civilization appears on the scene. The period is also one of cultural sharing and complex relationships between neighboring cultural groups.

Historic Influence

Aztec

Tenochtitlan

The Mayan Civilization had a great influence on the cultures of their time. Their influence and understanding of astronomy and agriculture has had major impacts on the world. 

The Mayan civilization had a surplus of knowledge, which was one of the reasons why they were able to flourish and become so impressive.

From pyramids to monuments, they constructed vast cities with architectural marvels. They built aqua ducts and raised roads. Archaeologists are now saying that at one point the city of Tikal held millions of people.

The Mayan civilization had a religious systems and a complex cosmology. Their understanding of astronomy and time was very important. 

Stelae

Stela

Tikal Stela 31

They recorded dates on stelae, which are large stone monuments that were erected throughout Mesoamerica. This is one of the main reasons archaeologists know so much about the Maya, because of their relentless obsession with recording time. 

These stone monuments depict dates associated with Mayan cosmology, and when rulers ascended to the throne or conquered other cities. 

Dresden Codex

codex

Dresden Codex

Still our understanding of the Mayan civilization is so limited because many texts were burned by the Spanish in the 15th century A.D.

Few written texts remain, such as the Dresden Codex. This is the  oldest written book found in the americas. The colored pamphlet style text, folds open Mayan history and astronomical charts. 

The dates found in the codex correlate to the planet Venus and phases of the lunar cycle. It also shows an assortment of gods and religious calendar dates.

Impact in the Region

The Mayan Civilization had an impact on the surrounding civilizations that came after, like the Aztec, Toltec, and the Mixtec.

These cultures adopted a lot of the knowledge from the Mayans. The Aztecs continued to keep the same calendars. Although they changed the names and glyphs, they continued to track and add to the same system of time. 

The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl is actually a reinvention of the previous Mayan God Kukulkan, the winged serpent. 

The Maya civilization spans over 2000 years and is the oldest civilization in the Americas.The Mayans were as mysterious as it gets. The reasons behind their downfall remains unknown…

Extra

Although the Mayans are not mentioned in the bible, there is a possibility that they were the source of the legend of the "Wandering Jew". Some dialects of mayan have distinct jewish like sounds.

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