Pu04a_Native American Civilizations
Pu04a_Native American Civilizations
AN04a2_Ch.16: Peoples and Empires in the Americas: Maya Kings and Cities
Main Idea: In the Americas, social complexity and sophistication were integral traits of many Native American peoples, but none displayed this better than the Maya. The Maya developed a highly complex civilization based on city-states and elaborate religious practices. Similarity of religion, language, and beliefs/ values support a general claim that Native American cultures don’t truly disappear, they, instead, develop into the succeeding society.
A. Pictographs: Written language whose content meaning is substantially derived from ‘pictures’ (Icons) that are visually similar to the content focus. Pictographs were useful for recording history, conducting business, and maintaining genealogy and landholding records. Pictographs were also used in the Mexica counting system. This system was based on the number 20. A picture of a flag indicated 20 items; a fir tree represented 20 times 20 items, or 400; and a pouch indicated 400 times 20 items, or 8000.
Mayan written language was more complex and advanced, though it’s clear that it had a pictographic root as well.
B. ‘Slash & Burn’ Agriculture: A common agricultural tradition in forested areas of Mesoamerica and Amazonia. Forested areas are cleared for cultivation by cutting (‘slashing’) brush and setting ‘controlled’ fires. The accumulation of ash acts as a soil enriching component that initially contributes to high agricultural yields. Over time, however, soils become depleted, and in the case of cleared rainforests, the soil quickly becomes agriculturally useless.
II. Maya (1)
The Maya are probably the most recognizable of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica.
1. Time: 2600 B.C. – Present
It’s important for us to avoid confusing the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ World use of the term Classical. This term refers to different time periods depending on the hemisphere civilization. In the context of pre-Columbian Native America, the following applies:
* Pre-Classic = Before 300 CE
* Classic = 300 – 900 CE (The height of Mayan Civilization)
* Post Classic = 900 – 1519 CE
2. Place: Originating in the Yucatán, they rose to prominence in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and western Honduras.
3. Circumstance: Building on the inherited innovations and ideas of earlier civilizations such as the Olmec, the Maya developed a complex society that accepted all elements of civilized life as basically religious in nature.
B. Politics & Society
1. ~80 Independent city-states. Cities were centers of ritual & rule. Ruled by a mortal king with priestly duties. This is similar to the Sumerian civilization, but different from the ancient Egyptian.
2. Hierarchy: Mayan King, Priests, Aristocracy, Artisans, Commoners & Peasants
3. Pyramids: Serve a ritualistic purpose.(2) These temples are the focal point of communal worship. Like the Sumerian Ziggurat, the Mayan pyramid (3) was centrally located within the city.(4) Mayan pyramids were intended to be used often as evidenced by the stairs built into the design.(5)
C. Religion: A supernatural ‘world view’ permeated Mayan life.
2. Ballgame- A cosmic battle between competing, but complementary, forces in nature. Good and evil, night and day, feast and famine, etc.
3. Nature is imbued with spiritual force/ power.
4. Sacrifices (blood and non-blood) are a human method of impacting the divine and influencing the divine will.
D. Achievements & Contributions
1. Calendrical Systems (The Calendar Round)
The ancient Maya and other Mesoamericans used a 52-year pattern (a calendar round), composed of two cycles which fit together like cogwheels, each with unequal numbers of teeth. “It was used to name individuals, predict the future, decide on auspicious dates for battles, marriages, and so on. Each single day had its omens and associations, …[passage of the] days was like a perpetual fortune-telling machine, guiding the destinies of the Maya.”
a. 260-day Count: We are unsure why the Maya settled on the number 260. It might relate to the period of human gestation or the interval between the planet Venus’ emergence as evening star and morning star. Regardless of where it comes from, the 260-day cycle is the first in the Calendar Round. It is made by inter-meshing the number symbols (dots for units and bars for fives) from 1 – 13 with the glyphs for twenty days named after deities who carry time across the sky.
Since it still keeps track of time, priests today continue to use this “Tzolkin” calendar (also known as Sacred Calendar, the Earth Calendar, the Sacred Almanac, and the Count of Days) for divination.
b. Vague Year or Haab: A 365 day secular (agricultural) calendar. It is a solar calendar (named “vague” because it only approximates the 365+ day calendar) is composed of 18 months with 20 days in each. The 20th day makes use of the Maya’s concept of zero since, instead of its being numbered 20, it is described as the day of the seating of the following month (‘0’). At the end of the 18 months, an unlucky five day period (Uayeb) is intercalated.
c. Days are named according to both of these calendars (Tzolkin and Haab), so a day could be 1 Imix 1 Pop (1 Pop being the Maya New Year), but it would take 52 Vague years (18,980 days) before 1 Imix would line up again with 1 Pop. One problem with this system (called the Calendar Round) is that it only keeps track of events during its 52-year cycle, and makes no provision for keeping track of events in earlier or future cycles.
2. Astronomy: Very accurate charting of celestial objects (movement across the sky).
3. Glyph Writing: A complex writing system with pictographic roots. It can be used for recording numerical data, chronological data, and thought.
4. Architecture: Massive pyramidal structures (temple-pyramids). In addition, the Maya were noted for elaborate and highly decorated ceremonial complexes which, in addition to pyramids, would include palaces and observatories, all built without metal tools.
5. Complex social system organized hierarchically.
6. Built sizable underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater.
7. Developed the concept of zero. Co-evolved with Gupta civilization.
8. Developed a wood-pulp paper. Co-evolved with Han dynasty.
III. Summary: Why it matters now.
Descendants of the Maya still occupy the same territory.
Along with class lessons and activities, this assignment will help us address these essential questions…
Use the World History: Patterns of Interaction (POI) textbook to complete the assignment below.
Refer to the course calendar to acquire due dates and other instructions.
We will be using a Cornell Notes Template to gather notes from assigned readings. If you would like a quick introduction to the method, please read ‘Student Note-Taking’ under the ‘Admin’ tab in the upper-left menu bar.
The notes you compile (as Cornell Notes) from your reading will augment your class notes and the Auxiliary Notes provided by Mr.V. You are being provided with a list of ‘Key’ vocabulary from each section of the chapter to help you focus and compile notes efficiently. Your notes should focus on the historical significance of the vocabulary term.
These notes are your “Homework” assignments. They must be uploaded as a PDF file to the ‘Assignments’ folder in our shared Dropbox folder. The files are due in Dropbox before the class period on the due date indicated in the course calendar.
The vocabulary listed below are divided into their respective sections. Your notes should be compiled for each section and submitted as separate assignments.
To see an example of how to label and submit the file containing your Cornell Notes, refer to the instructions for A03.
by Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Published: 04/25/2013 03:14pm
The ancient Maya started building their storied cities amid a construction boom in Central America as early as 1000 B.C., archaeologists reported Thursday.
New radiocarbon date samples from the ruined plazas and pyramids of Ceibal, in modern-day Guatemala, point to an earlier spread in growth of ancient Maya city building than people had previously believed, suggests a team led by archaeologist Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona-Tucson.
“Ceibal’s ceremonial complex (is) the earliest in the Maya lowlands, predating other examples by roughly 200 years,” Inomata said. “This also means there was a drastic social change at the time” as the Maya switched from largely hunter-gatherer lives to farming.
Anthropologists study the origins of civilizations for clues to the ties that bind us together. The Maya offer an interesting example of a society that started building cities uninfluenced by the Old World’s Egyptian and Fertile Crescent civilizations.
More than 6 million Maya people still live in Central America. Accounts of their ancestors’ jungle-draped ruins have been objects of popular fascination since the 1840s, when U.S. explorer John Lloyd Stephens, “the father of American archaeology,” wrote best-selling accounts of these lost cities and crumbling pyramid temples. More recently, scholars have held a “heated debate,” Inomata says, over whether the ancient Maya cities sprang from the even older Olmec civilization of Mexico’s Gulf Coast or started their building habits on their own.
Instead, the famed pyramid-builders of Central America probably owe the beginnings of their city building more to broad cultural changes taking place there at the time, Inomata says. A ceremonial platform built at Ceibal around 1000 B.C. appears to precede the pyramid and plazas built in the Olmec city of La Venta around 800 B.C., his team reports in the journal Science. Around that time, a pyramid also appears to have been built at Ceibal.
“The exciting thing about this (study) is not about a ‘cool’ find as much as about supplying a realistic, practical, complicated, story on the origins of things Maya,” says archaeologist Lisa Lucero of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, who was not part of the study team. “Human history is complicated and based on continual feedback from neighbors, foreign or no.”
The team reports 54 radiocarbon date samples at Ceibal, largely taken from charcoal deposits at the site, and compares them to reanalyzed radiocarbon dates, taken from charcoal at La Venta, an Olmec ruin.
Numerous other Maya sites and related ones on the Pacific Coast show signs of growing from towns to ceremonial centers around 1000 B.C. in Central America, pointing to a broad flowering of urban activity at the time. Inomata speculates that corn began providing enough calories, even when grown in poor rainforest soil, to trigger a move to more settled existence then.
Archaeologist John Clark of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, suggests the results still point to a heavy influence by the Olmec, widely seen as the New World’s earliest civilization, on the ancient Maya. He points to artifacts such as greenstone axes buried as offerings in the oldest plaza of Ceibal and an even older but less elaborate Olmec city nearby called San Lorenzo, which dates to as far back as 1400 B.C. “The data mean that Maya civilization is indeed older than has been recently claimed, and it also means they had more of a hand in the overall direction of Mesoamerican (New World) civilization at an earlier time,” Clark says. “It does nothing, however, to bring the origins of Maya civilization back to the beginnings of Olmec civilization at San Lorenzo. There was no symmetry of contribution here. One was early and important, and the other was later and important in lesser ways.”
Inomata and his colleagues suggest a “power vacuum” took place in Central America around 1000 B.C., when many people began moving into cities centered around plazas for religious rituals that marked a more organized society. For the Maya, whose ancient cities were widely abandoned around 850 A.D., the decision to start building appears to have been an ancient one, they conclude.
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