Maya

Mayan Temple

Can a civilization like the Mayans exist for thousands of years without collapse? Could it be possible to exist for that long and not collapse? What killed off this long living and powerful people? Was it a great flood? Volcanic eruption? Climate change or something else? What caused them to mysteriously vanish?

What caused the Mayan civilization to collapse? So many mysteries come from the Mayan civilization. 

Decline

The Mayans started to slowly fade away in what we call the Post Classic period. The fall of major cities like Tikal in Mesoamerica began at the end of the 8th century A.D. 

Tikal

Temple of the Jaguar

The Mayans thankfully were obsessed with time and carved important dates in stone monuments called “Stelae”. This has helped give archeologists a rough timeline of their history. Stela 11, erected in 869 A.D is the last known dated monument in Tikal.

After the fall of Tikal, other mayan cities followed. The prominent city Tonina, who dominated a large region of Mesoamerica, eventually declined and was abandoned. 

This decline marks the end of the Classic Period of the Maya, and the beginning of what we call the Post Classic Period, lasting from 900 A.D to 1521 A.D.

In this period the Toltecs, Mixtecs, and Aztecs begin to carve out their corner in history, while one of the last cities of the Maya is founded. Mayapan was founded in the northern part of the Yucatan around 1200 A.D, this was the center of the Post Classic Maya. Eventually collapsing in the late 14th century A.D. 

The decline of the Mayans was spread out over the region and its timeline. Each city state may have had different reasons for collapse. The eventual arrival of the Spanish cemented the Maya civilization in the past, leaving many questions unanswered.  

Overpopulation

There were likely several problems at the start of their decline.

One of the major theories is that the Mayan civilization began to collapse in a series of events which came as a result of overpopulation and overconsumption of resources. 

The ruins of Tikal, one of the largest Mayan cities, are an indication that the Mayans were once very densely populated. New scans of the jungle surrounding the site have revealed tens of thousands of new structures, a massive amount of roadways, and irrigation systems. Now archaeologists are saying that this city at one time held around 10 million people. 

Tikal

Temple II at Tikal

This overpopulation in Tikal, and neighboring cities such as Palenque, and Copan, may have been the main cause of collapse for the classic period of Maya Civilization. 

The living conditions at the height of Tikal are unknown, but they were masters at agriculture and enjoyed plenty of luxuries for such an ancient civilization. 

The real reason for collapse may be more suitably linked to war, and political change. The Mayans ritually made war with each other, and the evidence of this is widely spread throughout Mesoamerican history. The Maya are known to have taken slaves and prisoners in warfare.

What We Know about the Maya

Their Civilization began in around 600 B.C. in what is now the Yucatan, and lowland jungles of Guatemala.

The Maya inhabited a large part of what is now Guatemala and Mexico, but they had also occupied present-day Belize, Honduras, El Salvador.They were the dominant culture in Mesoamerica.

Before the Spanish Conquest, the Mayans had a highly developed civilization. The Mayans had unique artworks, architecture, and pottery techniques.

The Mayans had a sophisticated calendar system, they tracked celestial events like the solstices and equinox. They had calendars that tracked the phases of the planets. 

It is known that the Maya had a widespread trade network, but the extent of this trade is not completely known.

The Maya were able to construct a vast city that covered massive areas, likely unsurpassed by any other ancient civilization.

The Maya were skilled stone workers who developed new techniques for carving. Mayan cities were built using pre-made bricks made from limestone.

The Mayan civilization went through an amazing amount of growth during its 3000 year span. However, there were also very important changes during this period.

The Classic Mayan period was the period in the history of this civilization which saw a dramatic rise in the size of its population.

the Mayans had mastered a complex calendar system and developed writing. They are also famously known for understanding the mathematical concept of zero. 

The Mayans are undoubtedly one of the world’s first great civilizations.

Descendants 

Maya

Mayan Market

The Mayan people are still alive today. So the civilization hasn’t completely collapsed or ended. They cary on ancient traditions inherited from their ancestors. They even speak the same language, their ancestors did thousands of years ago.

Archaeologists continue to unearth new discoveries, some that are now changing our whole perspective on the Maya. 

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”.

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