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Mayan Civilization, Images by Wernher Krutein, Brian Broom and PHOTOVAULT®

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The Mayan Civilization is known to have existed from the north of the Mountain Ranges of Guatemala and Chiapas all the way to the Yucatan Peninsula. El Salvadore and Belize also included Mayan Civilzation.


After a long formative period (preclassic), that lasted aproximantly one and a half mileniums, the ethnicly uniform Mesoamerican Culture diversified itself. Then to the begining of our era (protoclasic) the Mayan culture began to take shape.

In the meridional area, wakes and altars were already sculpted; hieroglyphic writing had begun; the calendar was known, indicating both mathematical and astronomical knowledge. Discoveries of offerings in rich graves revealed notable technological advancements in pottery and stone working, as well as the existence of a thriving society. In the central and septentrional areas, the first pyramids, sometimes beautifuly decorated with modeled stucco, were being built.

In the clasic period, whose begining has been fixed to the year 300 AD, marks the culmination of the diferentiation process of the Mayan culture. Different factors in the Mayan area as well as in the rest of Mesoamerica, must have contributed to a cultural explosion.

Economic development could be explained by the demographic growth and a greater concentration of the population as time passed, something that had begun at the preclasic period; to the agricultural explosion of regions that had not been utilized, such as the high jungle; perhaps also to new cultivating techniques in some marsh areas around lakes.

The larger than needed harvests guarantied the consolidation of parasite social classes (priesthood and the nobility) that guaranteed the social cohesion to realize collective works. Thh structure the construction of ceremonial centers and the development of a monumental art were increased. Social stratification became more notable, probably making itself more rigid. The power of the leading social class was exercised through economic, political and religious domination.

The use of the so-called "Mayan Dome", was standerdized and allowed the substitution of the palm roofs to the clay roofs.

This technological advancement fundamentally changed the methodology of construction, giving way to a strong development of architecture and the arts that included sculpting, the modeling of stucco, and mural painting.

Numerous pre-existent cultural elements in the meridional area consolidated and spread to the central and northern areas, such as the construction of wakes with hieroglyphic inscriptions, the wake-altar combination, astronomic, calendar and mathematical knowledge. In the scientific as well as in the artistic field, the Mayans from the low lands elevated to a very high level of mastering these elements

The classic period came to an end in the beginning of the X century. In the central area, its decline has brught forth numerous and varied hypothesis.

In the course of less than one century, the characteristic cultural activities of the classic period (monumental architecture and the related arts, the construction of wakes, hieroglyphic inscriptions, decorated ceramic) started to cease in all the ceremonial centers, even though the population kept on living in the same locations.

In the northern area, the classic period ended when the northern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula remained under the domination of invaders, carriers of the TOLTECA culture. A hybrid culture, Maya-Tolteca, was created, clearly diferentiated from the classic Mayan, though many similarities were retained.



The groups which lived in the central and northern areas spoke different tongues from the Mayan linguistic family. The "Mayan" language proper name is "YUCATECO", from the Yucatan Peninsula.

Close relatives are the "LACANDON", spoken in the region of the Usumacinta river; the "ITZA", in the center of the Peten, and the "MOPAN", south of this last region and located in Belize. Another branch is the "CHONTAL", spoken in the towns which were established around the Terminos Lake and its rivers; the "CHOL", which probably was spoken in the wide area of the northern section of the Chiapas mountain range and the shores of Usumacinta; the "CHORTI", in the inferior and middle course of the Motuga river.

Finnally, the linguistic group which comprehends the "TZELTATL", "TZOTZIL" and "TOHOLABAL", in somewhat higher lands than Chiapas, but culturally integrate in the low lands.

From the physical characteristics of the Mayan people, some anthropologists consider this like "very homogeneous" and "belonging to the same ancestral trunk" very differentiated from the other Mesoamerican peoples. Though, comparative studies made by physical anthropologists reveal the strong diferences between the diferent Mayan groups, which, of course, present numerous common features among themselves and with the other peoples from Mesoamerica.

Like this, the height can vary up to 7 cm between the average height of the Chontal from the average height of the Yucateco (index of 85 and more) and the bone structure of the Tzetales and Tzotziles (index of 76 to 79). Very strong diferences can be observed in the nasal index, in the percentage of the content of some blood chemicals and in finger and palm prints.

The stronger diferences are between the groups from the high lands, and the groups from the low lands.

The common elements to all the Mayan groups, copper brown skin, black, thick and straight hair, and scarce facial and corporal hair are not exclusive to this group since these coincide with the characteristics of the majority of the peoples in Mesoamerica.

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