The Mayans: Most Dominant Indigenous Society of Mesoamerica

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3rd Period


Throughout history, there have been many indigenous tribes. However, one of the most known tribes has been the Mayans. The Mayans were once one of the most dominant indigenous societies of Mesoamerica. They are a remarkable group that sparks many people’s curiosity. They have an interesting culture and mysterious historical background. Their historical background is best characterized as cycles of rise and fall. A lot of achievements were made and city-states rose in prominence, but fell into decline and replaced by others.

Originating in the Yucatan Peninsula and modern-day Guatemala, they covered Belize, parts of Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas, and the western part of Honduras and El Salvador. The topography of the areas varied from volcanic mountains, which consisted of the highlands in the South, to a porous limestone shelf, known as the lowlands, in the Central and Northern regions. The lowlands produced crops which were used for their own personal consumption, the principle cultigens being maize. The volcanic highland was the source of obsidian, jade, and other precious metals like the cinnabar and hematite that they used to develop a lively trade.[1]

Culture was a very important aspect of Mayan life. Building on the ideas of earlier civilizations, such as the Olmec, they developed astronomy, calendrical systems, and hieroglyphic writing. Their favorite way to express their pride and religious devotion was to build many temples, pyramids, and building that would all form large cities. The Mayan workers who constructed these dwellings often decorated the walls with many pictures and symbols that would tell anything from a person’s life to an important religious belief or tale. [2]

The important discoveries, predictions, and advancements of the Maya were very important, but the most fascinating aspect of the Maya doesn’t lie in their temples or pyramids or their hieroglyphics, it lies in their religion. And although the cosmological beliefs of the Maya are not fully known, from what could be told, religion was the driving force of the Maya. With their polytheistic view, they based their lives, their buildings, and their whole existence on pleasing the gods. To them, science and religion were one in the same. Many men were sacrificed just to please the gods. Many kings gave their own blood because they believed it would help the crop harvest. The Mayans who studied astronomy believed that several gods, who would make the day favorable or unfavorable, controlled each day. Priests made important astronomical calculations to show which god ruled at which time. The priests were also the ones who ordered the construction of many temples and buildings. It is known that the Maya believed that the cosmos had three major planes, the Earth, the underworld beneath and the heavens above. Their view of the afterlife consisted primarily of a dangerous voyage of the soul through the underworld, which was populated by sinister gods and represented the jaguar, symbol of right. Majority of the Mayans (including rulers) went there. Heaven was preserved for those who had been sacrificed or died during childbirth. [3]

Despite all these advancements that took the work of many Mayans, the Mayans were never really united into one single empire. The Mayans were divided into many city-states, each ruled by an elite family organized into a hierarchy. These royal families claimed decent from the gods and were looked upon by the people as undisputed, untouchable beings. Part of the Maya’s decline was in part to warring city-states and families. Each city-state had a center of pyramids and other structures for the performance of religious ceremonies and government activities. Basically, there were three main classes. At the top was the royalty who lived in the palaces. Next, was the wealthy class who lived in large houses near the palaces....
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