THE SPANISH ERA
The most comprehensive work about the Mayas was Fray Diego De Landa's Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan ("Account of the Things of Yucatan") written around 1566. De Landa's work contains a description of "Maya calendrical signs and a mysterious alphabet" which became the key to solve the Mayan Hieroglyphs (Houston 1989: 8). However, for almost 300 years the manuscript remained unrecognized until interest in Maya glyphs was rekindled in the nineteenth century. De Landa's account of the Maya days and months did not come to light until 1863 (Coe 1992: 73-80).
The most powerful of the city-states, the Quiche, preserved into the colonial era the greatest known literary achievement of the New World, the "Popol Vuh,"or "Book of Counsel," epic. The "Popol Vuh" was written down using Spanish letters during the middle of the colonial era. This book has been of great help in understanding some of the secrets of Maya culture (Coe 1992: 72). Meanwhile, the Maya scribes began using European script more and more until the glyphs became lost to the Mayan tradition and to Western scholarship (Houston 1989: 8).
In the 18th century, rumors of a lost city near Palenque, Chiapas, reached Josef Estacheria, the President of Guatemala's Royal Audience. In 1784, Estacheria selected Andonio del Rio, a Spanish captain, and Ricardo Almendariz, to go to Palenque. Del Rio and Almendariz reached the ruins in 1787 and cleared some of the jungle covered structures. These two Spaniards also collected some artifacts and the leg of a throne in the Palace of Palenque which eventually were shipped to Madrid, Spain (Coe 1992: 74).
Del Rio submitted his report on Palenque along with Almendariz's drawing, in June 1787. Estacheria forwarded the report to Spain where it was deposited in the appropriate archives and promptly forgotten (Coe 1992,p.74).
In 1834 the government of Guatemala sent Juan Galindo to explore the Copan site. Galindo had been appointed governor of the Peten and began exploring Palenquee in 1831. He concluded that the native Indians were the actual descendants of the people who built the pyramids and that the "Maya civilization had been superior to all other in the world" (Coe 1992: 75).
Galindo also believed that the writing on the monuments represented the phonetics of the language and suggested that the architecture, sculpture and writing were similar in both Copan and Palenque (Coe 1992: 76). Galindo totally ingnored Del Rio's report in all his writings. In 1840 Galindo was murdered by Hondurans.
Constantine Rafinesque-Smaltz (1783-1840) attempted to decipher the Maya script in 1827. With very poor research material, Rafinesque arrived at two major breakthroughs in desciphering the Maya glyphs. First, he believed that the writing in the Dresden Codex and the incription of Palenque were the same script, and second, he realized the values of the bars and dots in the Maya number system. Bars represented the number five and dots represented units (Coe 1992: 89-91):
The names of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Chatherwood are also linked to the breakthroughs in Maya writing interpretation. These explorers visited Central America in 1839 and 1842 and wrote accounts of their travels. Catherwood reproduced and reduced the shapes of Maya glyphs and art, while Stephens made far sighted and futuristic comments suggesting the unity of the language and script across the southern lands and that the spoken Maya language was involved in deciphering the Maya writing. Stephens also suggested the existance of a "lost city" perhaps lying under the jungle and many years later the "lost cities" of the Peten (Uaxactun, Tikal, Naranjo, Nakum, Holmul, and others) were discovered (Coe 1992: 93-98; Houston 1989: 9).
In 1862 the Abbe Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, came across an abridged version of De Landa's manuscript "Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan" which had "the names of the days in the 260 day calendar and the names of the months in the approximate solar year of 365 appeared with their appropriate hieroglyphs" (Coe 1992: 101). De Landa explained how the Maya writing system worked. In his book Breaking the Maya Code (1992), Michael Coe refers to De Landa's manuscript as "the true Rosetta Stone for the decipherment of the Maya hierorlyphic writing" (p.100).
(Source: Coe, Michael D.Hudson, 1992: 105). Breaking the Maya Code Thames and Hudson,1992:105).
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Ernest Forstemann (1822-1906), a Royal Librarian of the Electorate of Saxony (now in eastern Germany), stands as the great decipherer of the Maya calendar. Among Forstemann's many discoveries are the use of the vigesimal (base twenty) system, the Venus tables (584-day apparent cycle of Venus as seen from Earth),and the recognition of the lunar tables in the Dresden Codex (possibly warning of lunar eclipses which were a bad omen for the Maya) (Coe 1992: 108).
However, the inscriptions of the monuments still remained a mystery. As the twentieth century opened, the study of Maya scripts became increasingly supported by institutions instead of individual adventurers or private benefactors.
Sylvanus Griswold Morley, an American archaeologist, made a great contribution to the study of Maya writing by managing to convince the Carnegie Institution in Washington to support longterm research of the Maya civilization. Under the Institute's support, excavations at Chichen Itza, Quirigua, Copan and Uaxactun began in earnest (Coe 1992: 128; Houston 1989: 11-12).
According to Dr. Coe, the prevailing view of the nature and content of the Classic Maya inscriptions that was held by almost all specialists working with or for the Carnegie Institution was to ignore or discard the inscriptions that were not calendrical or astronomical, and also the small inscriptions besides the figures that were thought to be Maya prist-rulers. Coe surmises that this is probably the reason why the "Carnegie era,, did not produce any advances or any "real corpus of Maya inscriptions" (p.129).
In 1915, Eric Thompson, an English anthropologist, requested a job at the Carnegie Institution's project in Chichen Itza stressing his knowledge of Maya dates and computations. Thompson was hired and what is known as the "Thompson era" in Maya hieroglyphic interpretation began.
Thompson viewed history as recurring prophecy. He developed a very abstract view of the Maya writing and society based on the concept that Maya writing was ideographic instead of phonetic. In Thompson's view Maya rulers were "peaceful prists given to philosophical speculation about the nature of time and prophecy" (Houston 1989: 14). Thompson's forceful personality and academic prestige retarded the deciphering of Maya glyphs for half a century.
During the Thompson era there were a few dissenting voices like Benjamin Lee Whorf who insisted that a writing system had to record the spoken language and who opened De Landa's question of a phonetic Maya script based on the syllabic system. He also predicted that the deciphering of the "languages of the Old Empire cities" would be as momentous as the reconstruction of the Hittite writing system (Coe 1992: 136-139). Unfortunately, Whorf's application of his theories to the actual deciphering left much to be desired, so he was forcefully attacked by the establishment and in particular by Thompson.
The most significant phonetic breakthrough happened in 1950 in the Soviet Union. Yurii Knorosov, a linguist, published a series of papers stating that the alphabet had been totally misinterpreted. Rather than the glyphs being ideograms they were a "syllabary, collection of consonat/vowell combination" which "when joined, such syllables formed words consisting of consonant + vowel + consonant" and that the last vowel had to be dropped because few Maya words ended in vowels. Knorosov used De Landa's signs to decipher the codices (Houston 1989: 15-16).
Eric Thompson rejected Knorosov's findings mainly as a communist propaganda ploy. It took Thompson's death in 1976 for the real Maya writing deciphering to begin in earnest (Coe 1992: 144).
Today Maya linguists and archaeologists are deciphering glyphs and excavating sites at a fast pace. According to Coe, David Stuart and Floyd G. Lounsbury of Yale University, the artist and Maya scholar Linda Schele of the University of Texasxas at Austin, and other young epigraphers, are at the forefront of the advances in deciphering Maya writing (Scarborough 1994: 40).
Linda Schele and Peter Mathews reconstructed the life stories of six succesive Maya rulers by following the argument that "if inscriptions reflected Maya language then they should also display the same syntactical structure" (Saunders 1992: 27).
By the mid 1980's the Maya script was finally proven to be logographic, mostly phonetic in content, and characterized by the principles of polyvalence (meaning a single sign having multiple sounds and a sound having more than one sign) , and homophony (multiple signs having the same sound value), and written in the Maya-Cholan language family (Saunders 1992: 27).
According to early hieroglyphs, the following two or three centuries saw the rise of powerful city-states ruled by lords who claimed a divine role (Stuart and Houston 1989: 82). These chiefdoms occupied the Valley of Mexico south to today's states of Morelos, Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas, and to the Pacific coast of El Salvador and Guatemala (Marcus 1991: 26).
When the Spanish initiated the conquest many peoples, like the Aztecs, Zapotecs, Maya, Zoque, and Mixtec, lived in Nesoamerica. They spoke different languages and had different customs, but they all shared common Mesoamerican cultural traits. Although the Maya built monumental cities in the lowlands of the Yucatan. Peninsula, their best known accomplishments, like hieroglyphic writing and the calendrical systems, originated "among earlier societies located to the west of their homeland" (Marcus 1991: 26).
A monument inscribed with early glyphs and discovered in what is now the state of Oaxaca proves that writing was present at around 700 B.C. (Stuart and Houston 1989: 82) According to Marcus, by this time the Olmecs of Veracruz and 'Tabasco, regarded as the "mother culture" of Mesoamerica, were already in decline(1991: 26). However, the Olmecs still laid much of the basis of Mesoamerican culture whether or not they used a writing system(Vickers 1995).
It seems that by 250 A.D., at the beginning of the classic Maya period, about 250 hieropglyphs were in use at hundreds of sites. All through the Classic Period, which ended around 900 A.D., many stone monuments had their surfaces covered with hieroglyphs (Stuart and Houston 1989: 82).
Eric Thompson, who dominated all Maya studies during the first half of this century, argued that the glyphs on the Maya ruins could not be spoken because they were ideographs, or signs covering ideas and not the sounds of the language (Scarborough 1994: 40).
It was a Russian epigrapher, Yuri Valentinovich Knorosov, who, basing his studies in De Landa's phonetic alphabet, finally broke the Maya code (Stuart and Houston 1989: 85; Scarborough 1994: 40) . Knorosov believed that "the alphabet had been completely misrepresented" (Houston 1989: 15). He tried "to find the sounds of words, syllables or letters in the Maya glyphs" (Scarborough 1994: 40), and proposed that De Landa's list was a list of syllables, or syllabary, where each sign stood for a specific combination of one consonant and one vowel (Stuart and Houston 1989: 85) Once joined, the syllables formed words composed of consonant + vowel + consonant, and because "few Mayan words ended in vowels,the final letter was dropped" and this dropped vowel "accorded with the first one, a principle he termed 'synharmony' " (Houton 1989: 15-16). In the principle of 'synharmony,' when the word was written the scribe would "have chosen a syllable that included the same vowel as the initial syllable" (Stuart and Houston 1989: 85). According to Houston this was very important because it revealed "the vowel of the second syllable in a phonetic spelling" (1989: 16).
To prove his theory, Korosov went back to the codices, where most glyphs accompany scenes with animals and gods, and hoped that the glyphs would "explain and label the images" (Houston 1989: 9) . He started with De Landals sign for 'Ku," and applied it to a spelling for "turkey," in Yucatec "Kutz." The first glyph was "Kull and the second, not in Landa's syllabary, was according to 'synharmony' probably "tzu." Then, Korozov turned to the two glyphs for dog, with the first one being the hypothetic "tzu,"and the second De Landa's "Lu." "Tzul," or "Iltzu-l(u)," as the Maya would have spelled it, was an old Yucatec word for "dog" (Houston 1989: 16-17; Stuart & Houston 1989: 85).
Knorosov's studies have now been proven and accepted as valid, yet almost no one in the West accepted them initially. As Knorosov remarks in his book The Writing of the Maya Indians (1967), translated from the Russian by Sophie Coe, "the head of the American 'calendrical' school, Eric Thompson ... categorically denied the use of phonetic signs in Maya writing, like those in Landa ... and insisted that most of the obscurely written signs of the Landa 'alphabet' could not be equated with signs in the Maya codices" (P. 33). Knorosov also mentions that one of the reasons Thompson rejected his theory was politics. Thompson wrote that as far as he knew there had never been any desciphering in Russia, and therefore there would never be (Korosov 1967: 33).
Two western scholars,Heinrich Berlin and Tatiana Proskouriakoff, have made marked progess in understanding the content of the inscriptions. In 1958, Berlin, who lived in Mexico City, believed that a certain category of glyphs seemed to stand for places, or for the ruling families in those places. He called these glyphs "Emblem Glyphs," which are now the main focus on the work on Maya writing. Two years after Berlin's work, Proskouriakoff, then charting changes in artistic Maya style, noted that the "pattern of dates on the monuments corresponded to periods" in a human's life (Stuart and Houston 1989: 85-86). As Stuart and Houston point out, Proskouriakoff demonstrated convincingly that "the recorded dates marked historical events in the lives of named rulers and their families" (1989: 86). For the first time Maya scholars understood that the writing system included both logograms and syllables of the consonant-vowel pattern.
For Stuart and Houston the basic elements of Maya writing are signs, of which only about 800 are known.They explain their understanding of the Maya signs as follows:
Individual signs usually have a square or an elongated oval appearance; one or more of them may be found together in what is knows as a glyph block. Many such blocks are arranged in a rectilinear grid that provides the spatial framework for most of the known inscriptions. within the grid, glyph blocks are arranged in rows and columns whose order of reading is prescribed by specific rules ... Signs are by nature highly pictorial ... taken to the extreme in inscriptions composed of "full-figure" glyphs, in which individual signs and numbers become animated and are shown interacting with one another. ... The combination of C-V syllables and logographs enabled the scribes to write the words of their texts in detail. ...For example, one very common honorific title in Maya texts is "ahaw," meaning "lord" or "noble." Ahaw may be written in logographic form as a head in profile, with the distinctive headband or scarf that marked the highest nobility in Maya society. But it is also possible to write the word as a combination of three phonetic, syllabic signs: a-ha-wa. (p. 86)Unfortunately, many Maya signs remain undeciphered so at present it is impossible to know the proportion of logographic and syllabic signs. But, the work keeps on and today about half of the syllabic grid is filled (Stuart and Houston 1989: 86).
According to Stuart and Houston, the decipherement of Maya glyphs gets even more complicated because of the signs that share the same values (allographs), which are not only restricted to syllables but to words. For example, "the Maya word 'kan' (or 'kaan') may mean snake, I 'sky, I or four, I just as the English word for tie, may mean an article of clothing ... or an equal score in an athletic context" (1989: 87). It is possible that the Maya used allophony for punning, as when using a "sky" sign when they meant "four."
It is interesting to note that by 580 A.D. glyphic texts appeared in great quantities and on a wide variety of media, something that might suggest a high literacy rate or a bigger population. But by 790 A.D. the insciptions started showing signs of ineptitude with irregular and almost casual incision and little attention to detail. Few writings have been found from about 900 A.D. to the Spanish conquest. The codices date from about A.D. 1250 to 1450 (Houston 1989: 24).
Since Knorosov, Berlin, and Proskouriakoff revolutionized Maya studies with their discoveries (the phonetic alphabet and the glyphs recording the names and deeds of native lords), epigraphers have been revealing "accounts of courtly officials, warriors, scribes, and sculptors, ladies of the blood and sacrificial captives" (Houston 1989: 52). But so far these accounts reveal only the deeds and concerns of the elite, or the apex of the Maya society (Houston 1989: 52; Stuart and Houston 1989: 87).
The following section attempts to give a summary of the history of the Maya rulers as it is known today. Most inscriptions were commissioned by the ruling elite and record information that these rulers considered important. So far, the record is silent about the common people, the minor artisans, farmers, merchants, traders, and masons, and their everyday lives and concerns.
THE HISTORY OF THE MAYA RULERS
Since researchers now know how the Maya arranged verbs, objects, subjects, and punctuation, the process of translation is proceeding at a rapid pace. Bower (1986) explains that most inscriptions are made up of a date, the name of the subject (often a king), which can take as many as 30 glyph blocks (several glyphs per block) , and an event like the capture of a lord (p. 361) Also, the glyphs often record another important event: death.
William Weber Johnson (1986: 44) notes that Dr. Linda Schele believes that the Maya rulers strove to be remembered by future generations by building monumental structures and stelas and writing of their conquests and rituals on their surfaces. Also, the imagery in Maya art seems to have been made for these rulers and their families as "major political and religious statements of their world" (Schele 1987: 39).
In their book A Forest of Kings (1990), Linda Schele and David Friedel write that all the great events in the lives of rulers births, accessions, marriages, conquests, defeats, deaths, and births of children - were recorded on public monuments. Also, the kings, wives and courtiers commissioned monuments of their own. And artists and sculptors signed their names so they would be recognized by future generations (p. 19).
These rulers, like the Egyptian pharaohs, were considered living gods and they called themselves "Ahau." They ruled over the tropical lowlands of Central America and flourished for over a thousand years (200 B.C. to 900 A.D.). Schele and Freidel (1990: 17) note that the classic Maya world was organized at its peak into more than fifty independent states covering more than 100,000 square miles of forests and plains.
The divine "ahauob" ruled over millions of people -craftsmen, farmers, traders, warriors, and nobility- in capitals containing pyramids, palaces, plazas, and temples and serviced by tens of thousands of people. The Maya also engaged in war, trade, and diplomacy with other states in the mountains of Central Mexico. Schele and Freidel called this "a civilized world: a world of big government, big business, big problems, and big decisions by the people in power" (1990: 17).
Joyce Marcus (1992) writes that between 3,000 and 2,500 years ago, a network of chiefdoms ran from the Valley of Mexico south through the present states of Morelos, Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas to the Pacific coast of Guatemala and El Salvador and that "the Maya who occupied the southern lowlands of the Yucatan Peninsula" were "relatively late participants in this network" (p. 26).
In the introduction to the book Classical Maya Political History: Hieroglyphic and Archaeological Evidence (1989), Norman Hammond writes that scholars divide Mesoamerica into four principal regions according to the amount of archaeological, epigraphic, and interpretative research being done. The f our regions are the Western region which includes Palenque and the Passion sites (Altar de Sacrif icios and Seibal) ; the southeast region with a significant number of inscriptions at Copan and Quirigua; the northeast Peten region (Uaxactun, Tikal, and Rio Azul); and the Yucatan Peninsula region (Chichen Itza) . The Peten is often considered the heartland of classic Maya civilization, and also has an abundance of inscriptions covering the entire historical span of the Classic Period, especially with the history of the Tikal dynasty. The Yucatan has fewer inscriptions than the other regions but is starting to achieve historical status as a political center thanks to work being done by Linnea H. Wren and Peter Schmidt (p. 3) .
According to Stuart and Houston (1989), the primary concerns of the ruling elite seemed to have been lineage ties and, political authority. After Berlin and Proskouriakoff constructed lists of the kings at Palenque, Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan, later work clarified the family relationships among the people named in the inscriptions. It is now clear that during the Classic Period Maya rule was passed from father to son and family connections appear to have been of great importance to the political organization of the society (p. 87).
According to Schele (1987), two of the first ancient Maya names were Shield Jaguar, the king of Yaxchilan, from October 23 A.D. 681, to June 19 742, and his son, Bird Jaguar, who reigned until 771. On October 28, A.D. 709, Shield Jaguar and Lady Xoc, his principal wife, underwent a blood-letting ceremony, 62 days after the birth of their son, Bird Jaguar, to another of his wives. Shield Jaguar, over 60 years old, and his wife, were probably sanctifying the birth of a son. Later on, in February 12, 724, Shield Jaguar won a battle in which he took captives and commissioned the three lintels in which this story is told and who were placed in the same structure (pp. 40-41).
Bird Jaguar became king ten years after his father's death. There is no record why it took him so long to come to the throne, but there is also no record of other kings in the interim. On February 18, A.D. 752, Shield Jaguar celebrated the birth of his son and heir, Shield Jaguar II. Eighty three days before the birth of his son, Bird Jaguar went to battle, won and became the high king (Schele 1987: 42). Other inscriptions at Yaxchilan name the founder of the Yaxchilan dynasty as Progenitor Jaguar and suggest that he came to the throne in A.D. 320.
Marriage among ruling lineages of different city states had an important role in diplomacy and in forging alliances and members of the royal family "who were not in direct line to the throne sometimes filled the bureaucratic roles" (Stuart and Houston 1989: 87). A ceramic vessel found in the Naranjo area of northern Guatemala is signed "the son of the Naranjo 'ahaw' and the lady of Yaxhall (Stuart and Houston 1989: 87).
War between city-states was an important endeavor. Stuart and Houston (1989) note that it was a royal duty, and a matter of pride, to take prisoners. "One king from Yaxchilan is almost always referred to in the inscriptions as 'he' of the 21 prisoners" (p. 88). Houston (1989) notes that for such war-like people 21 captives does not seem worth mentioning unless 'twenty one' meant more than twenty or a low count of captives referred to the number of royal or high status prisoners (p. 54).
The Lake Petexbatun region of the Guatemalan lowlands has extensive records of warfare. The inscriptions indicate that in a span of 40 years some city-states shifted alliances from friendly to belligerant and back again. And a city-state centered in Dos Pilas (Petexbatun region) waged several raids, expanded, and then lost its grip on the conquered lands and shrank to its original size, all within the same 40 year span (Stuart and Houston 1989: 88).
According to Tim Applebaum (1994: 733), epigraphers Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube believed that many individual cities were tied in two large, durable alliances and each alliance was led by a dominant power (for example, the city of Tikal in Guatemala and an even larger urban center at the base of Yucatan called Calakmul). Both Martin and Grube speculate that the collapse of the great alliance of Calakmul in the middle of the eigth century might "have contributed to the political fragmentation and widespread warfare that followed" (Applebaum 1994: 733).
Applebaum (1994) writes that early Classic texts from Caracol in Belize imply an alliance between Calakmul and Caracol because a hieroglyphic stairway from Dos Pilas identifies the ruler of Calakmul as lord of the local king, known as ruler 1. Also, another stela from the city of Naranjo names Calakmulls ruler as the lord of the Naranjo king, Smoking Squirrel. In the same article, Applebaum also quotes Grube stating that it seems that by A.D. 730 there was not one single state in the Maya lowlands that was not in a political sphere. Calak. ills domain included a ring of cities near Tikal, among them Dos Pilas, El Peru, and Naranjo, while Tikalls smaller sphere included the distant site of Palenque and other neighbors (p. 734).
For Applebaum, it seems that Calakmul tried to unify all the lowlands under its power, but somehow it over-reached and around 740 or 750 Tikal, under powerful kings, overthrew Calakmul in a series of conflicts. And Calakmulls glyph, which translates roughly as "the unifier," disappeared at all distant sites (p. 734).
Warfare was a very serious business at Dos Pilas, although incriptions in other areas imply that conquest was not always the main purpose of war; perhaps ritual played a part. Understanding emblem glyphs might shed some light on this question. The majority of scholars today think that emblem glyphs refer to city-states (polities) larger than the specific sites where they appear (Stuart and Houston 1989: 88-89).
Stuart and Houston (1989) believe that some specific names refer to natural site characteristics like Aguateca (Petexbatun region) was called IlKlinich Wits," or "Sun Faced Hill," with the written record depicting a "hill" sign split at the top (p. 89). Stuart and Houston also write that the Maya probably gave names to the structures they built because some funerary pyramids are referred to as "wits" or "hills." Furthermore, the Maya referre to the inscribed upright stelae, found in great numbers in their cities, as "plant stones" or "tree stones" (p. 89).
Joyce Marcus (1991) states that the Maya depicted prisoners as the pedestals on which the winning rulers stood. Marcus gives the example of the early Monument 3 from San Jose Mogote (in the Oaxaca Valley), which has a stone depicting what appears to be a sacrificial victim, sprawled on the floor with blood flowing from his chest after removal of his heart. Between the f eet of the figure is the Zapotec day sign for "earthquake" placed above a dot. Marcus believes that the name of the victim was probably 1 Earthquake (p. 28).
Of note is the fact that stone monuments erected at four different early sites -Chiapa de Corzo, Tres Zapotes, El Baul, and Abaj Takalik- do not lie within the area generally assigned to the Classic Maya. The earliest securely dated monument in the Maya lowlands, Stela 29, is in Tikal, northern Guatemala; its date corresponds to July 6, 292 A.D., in the western calendar (Marcus 1991: 28-29).
According to Johnson (1986), Merle Green Robertson and Dr. Schele have an almost complete record of Palenque's rulers and their achievements from the birth of Kuk I in A.D. 397 to the accession of 6 Cimi Pacal in A.D. 799, almost at the end of the Classical Period- a list of 19 rulers, including two women. Pacal's reign seemed to have been a sort of a golden age for the city-state. He was succeded by his son, Chan-Bahlum II, and his reign was almost as good as his father's. Next on the throne was Kan-Xu. II, his second son who was captured in a war with Tonina and was eventually sacrificed (pp. 44-45).
Women played a central role in Maya culture. Houston (1989) states that there is enough evidence to show that the wives of rulers were royal themselves, sometimes of foreign birth. These weddings seemed to have established useful bonds between powerful families, and in the case of new or struggling dynasties, obtained the prestige of older blood lines. However, these bonds were rarely durable (p. 55).
There was plenty of blood-letting (like tongue-piercing and testicle piercing) and terrible ways of sacrificing captives (such as skinning, decapitation, and the extraction of the beating heart) . But courtly life also had other dimensions, such as dances with the iridiscent plumes of the quetzal bird, covering buildings with flowers, royal coronations, and the building of stelae, temples and palaces. The Maya noted when these structures were built as well as what their names were; for example, the "Accession House," and the "Sweat-bath House" (Houston 1989: 56).
Another pasttime of courtly life was sports, which included the ballgame, played within a narrow alley between two parallel structures. Players scored points by moving the ball over flat markers on the floor or through rings on the wall. The rules for this game are not fully understood yet (Houston 1989: 57). Houston also writes that "at the end of their lives rulers were buried in high style under pyramids, in tombs with jaguar pelts, jade and fine ceramics" (p. 57).
THE CALENDRICAL SYSTEM
At a symposium organized by the Kimbell Ark,- museum in July 1986, Floyd Lounsbury, a Yale anthropologist, "explained that the Maya developed a complex 'day count' calendar 16 centuries before a similar system was devised in Europe" (Bower 1986: 361).
Marco y Marcus De Paz in the book Calendario Maya: el camino infinito del tiempo (1991), wrote that the complicated Maya chronological system seems to have been created by one person, although data about the movements of the sun and the moon had been accumulated for many centuries (1991: 19). De Paz notes that the American archaeologist Sylvanus Morley thought the calendar was conceived at the end of the seven baktun, or the year 220.127.116.11.0. of the Mayan era, around 353 B.C., or at the latest in the year 18.104.22.168.0., 235 B.C., probably in Tikal or around Uaxactun, because these are the two oldest known dates (1991: 19-20).
De Paz also lists some of the forms by which the Maya measure time. The following are a few examples (1991: 23-24):
a. The TZOLKIN, or short count, also known as the ritual calendar. It consisted of 260 days, divided in 13 periods of 20 days. The sacred year starts with 1 Ik.Stuart and Houston think that the reckoning of time was very important to the Maya (1989: 84) and De Paz agrees (1991).
For Joyce Marcus, the 260-day calendar was based on twenty and it was used by all Mesoamerican Indians, and the day names were based on animals and natural phenomena. Thirteen was a lucky number. The importance of the 260-day calendar was so significant that among the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Aztec, "children were often named for the day of their birth," in such a way that children's names were, for example, 2 Wind, 5 Flower, 3 Crocodile, and 8 Deer. The day name was given from a hieroglyphic sign, and to give the number the dot (1) and the bar (5) were used. For example, 8 Deer would be written as a bar with three dots and a picture of a deer Is head (Marcus 1991: 27).
The Maya notation of time "has many possible uses--including history, religion, and myth" but scholars did not know what the non- calendrical portions of the Maya inscriptions were saying (Stuart and Houston 1989: 84-85)
To calculate the Mayan Date, enter the Gregorian Date below. The
Gregorian Calendar is the standard western calendar that most use today.
The order is Day, Month Number, and 4 digit Year
Months of Solar Calendar
The second set of numbers, #.#.#.#.#, is called the Long Count date.
It is a day by day count of days since the beginning of time for the Mayans.
We now use a 10-base numbering system (0-9). The Mayans used a 20-base
numbering system (0-19). The values in the Long Count are 0-12.0-19.0-19.0-17.0-20
so 7/28/98 which is
Below is the graphical representation of the Mayan calendar
The ongoing exploration and excavation of sites exploring for new Maya sites in Mesoamerica and the continuing work of interpeting Maya hieroglyphics, makes this moment in the history of anthropology one of the most exciting ever. Now we know not only that the American continent was inhabited for a very long time, but that a dynamic civilization was developing before that of the Romans and the Greeks. Depends on which period you are referring to.
Throughout history only a handful of cultures invented and developed an original complex written language. The Maya were one of these few. From their written record the Maya are now telling us how people lived on the American continent, at a time when the Assyrians, Egyptians and Chinese were at a similar societal developmental stage.
The Mayan written history and the study of the hieroglyphics shows the language to be highly sophisticated and detailed, with puns and jokes, lies and bragging, as well as the tales of kings, or lords of city states, and their wars and ceremonies. The picture of life emerging in the ancient world of Mesoamerica is one filled with wars and heroes, peagantry and cruelty, diplomacy and betrayal. This history is continually changing as new epigraphic and archaeological discoveries come to light.
The Mayas were not the first Mesoamericans to use writing and a calendar. But, under the Mayas both writing and the calendar acquired a level of development and sophistication not seen before. Questions for future research include: where di" the Mesoamerican writing develop and when? Were there multiple origins, or a single one? Who were the inventors of Mesoamerican writing?
One opportunity for research is the reconstruction of the history of the Maya sites in Belize. Some of the known sites include Caracol, Lubaantun, Xunantunich, Pusilha, Xnaheb, and many others still covered by jungle vegetation. Although, there has been some study in this area, there is still much to be uncovered, deciphered, analyzed and compared before a comprehensive history of Belize prior to the European conquest can be written.
For me, the most exciting field in anthropology today is the work being done by the epigraphers who are translating and interpreting the written languages of the Maya. Perhaps one day, in the not so distant future, the names of Shield Jaguar, Bird Jaguar, Pacal of Palenque, and Yax Pax of Copan, will be taught to children all over the world along with the names of Ramses, Alexander, and Julius Cesar.
SILVIA PINZON- BA,MLS
This information was obtained from her husband, and should be taken as "tongue in cheek"!
Coe, Michael D.
De Paz, Marco y Marcus
"New life in the old tradition."
Johnson, William Weber
Knorozov, Yuri V.
Morley, Sylvanus Griswold
Saunders, Nicholas J.
Schele, Linda and David Freidel
Stuart, David and Stephen D. Houston
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