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Maya ruins in Palenque, Mexico

Mayan History

While the Maya area was initially inhabited around the 10th millennium BC, the first clearly “Maya” settlements were established in approximately 1800 BC in Soconusco region of the Pacific Coast.

This point in time, known as the Early Preclassic, was characterized by sedentary communities and the introduction of pottery and fired clay figurines.

Archaeological evidence suggests the construction of ceremonial architecture in Maya area by approximately 1000 BC.

The earliest configurations of such architecture consist of simple burial mounds, which would be the precursors to the stepped pyramids subsequently erected in the Late Preclassic.

The Classic period (c. 250 AD – 900 AD) witnessed the peak of large-scale construction and urbanism, the recording of monumental inscriptions, and a period of significant intellectual and artistic development.

The Mayans developed an agriculturally intensive, city-centered empire consisting of numerous independent city-states. This includes the well-known cities of Tikal, Palenque, Copán and Calakmul.

The most notable monuments are the stepped pyramids they built in their religious centers and the accompanying palaces of their rulers.

Other important archaeological remains include the carved stone slabs usually called stelae (the Maya called them tetun, or "tree-stones"), which depict rulers along with hieroglyphic texts describing their genealogy, military victories, and other accomplishments.

The Mayan civilization participated in long distance trade with many of the other Mesoamerican cultures, including Teotihuacan, the Zapotec and other groups in central and gulf-coast Mexico, as well as with more distant, non-Mesoamerican groups. For example the Tainos in the caribbean, also archaeologists found gold from Panama in the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza. Important trade goods included cacao, salt, sea shells, jade and obsidian.

Left: Photo by vaticanus

The Classic Maya collapse

The Classic Maya Collapse refers to the decline and abandonment of the Maya cities of the southern Maya lowlands of Mesoamerica between the 8th and 9th centuries. This decline was coupled with a cessation of monumental inscriptions and large-scale architectural construction.

The Classic Maya Collapse is one of the biggest mysteries in archaeology. What makes the collapse so intriguing is the profound heights reached culturally by the Maya before the collapse; and the relative suddenness of the collapse itself.

Theories of Maya decline are overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change.

Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to the collapse of Maya civilization. The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds, ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community.


The article above is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Maya civilization"