When Did the Mayans Begin?

January 27, 2021
Nick

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.

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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”.

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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

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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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