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Aztec vs Maya who is more advanced

By FEU10 Apr 14, 2014 2966 Words

I would firstly like to thank God for giving me the health and strength to complete this project , also I would like to thank my Caribbean History teacher Dr. Morton-Gittens for his extensive assistance in completing this project , lastly a big thanks goes out to my aunt for allowing me to use her computer and printer to complete this project.

A comparison between the Maya and Aztecs with special attention to technological advances-

Were the Maya more advanced than the Aztec?

During the 6 years of secondary school, I was captivated by History; more so the indigenous people that came before modern society, in particular the Mayas. The topic will help expand the knowledge of History students at the College and it will also raise questions on the indigenous societies, whether what we know from Historians is solidified by evidence and other sources. This project will also help me by using it as a guide to study for upcoming exams, the in depth details and critical analysis will prove to be helpful in writing essays. It will also refresh my knowledge and it would enable me to become more enlightened about the area of research. For to long we have accepted the Eurocentric view that the people were not civilized that there culture and evolution produced no lasting accomplishments. My study is aimed at not only proving that the Maya were a great civilization but that they left us with useful technology and inventions that even the Europeans at the time did not have.

Historical Setting
  Mayans were a very advanced civilisation. Initially the Mayans were established during the Pre-Classic period according to the Mesoamerican chronology; many Maya cities reached their highest state of development during the Classic period and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish. The Maya civilization extended throughout the present-day southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and the Yucatán Peninsula states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatán. The Maya area also extended throughout the northern Central American region, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and extreme northern El Salvador. By the time the Europeans had arrived in the America`s the Maya were already in ruins and those who remained were in small tribes. They were known as a civilization that existed in cities. (City States) Aztecs were also an advanced civilisation but historians say that they were less advanced than the Maya. The Aztec Empire dominated Mesoamerica from Mexico and Guatemala to the territories of Salvador and Honduras in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for almost one hundred years. This was at the same time as the Inca Empire in Peru. The Aztec empire was made up of the native people who were called the Nahuatl-speakers and the Culhua-Mexico, who had come from the Pacific Northwest and settled in the area which would become the capital of Mexico, Tenochtitlan. At the height of Aztec civilization, around 1300-1500 CE, more than 200,000 people lived in Tenochtitlan, it was bigger than any city in Europe at the time.

Literature Review
In this project Primary and Secondary sources were used, such a firsthand evidence which is basically what was said about the societies during that time including also maps, picture etc. and also second hand evidence which is basically Historians, archaeologists etc. and what they said on the topic.

Many historians, like Katz, have argued that in defining Civilization there must be key characteristics that show or prove “advancement”. For too long indigenous American societies were compared to what was the European model of civilization and as such both the Maya and the Aztec were classed as not meeting the definition. Yet it had varying degrees or levels of development. From research you know that the Maya were well advanced we talk about /city-states, and technology along with the same for the Aztec. We will demonstrate that the Maya were more advanced than the Aztec The Maya’s technological achievements include the fabrication of tools that are harder than iron; the invention of high strength durable materials of construction including the fabrication of hydraulic cement for producing cast-in-place concrete; the development of the Maya arch as a structural mechanism to create multi-story and clear span structures, elevated concrete paved roads; long-span bridges, and advanced water management methodologies that permitted the Maya urban civilization to survive in a seasonal desert environment. Archaeologists consider the Maya to be a Stone Age Culture. They continue to focus on this cultural label because the Maya did not use tools of iron or bronze. Their use of specialized jade tools, which are harder than iron and Obsidian, should provide a positive rationale to provide a new nomenclature based on their technological achievements. The Maya should be given a new nomenclature: TECHNOLITHIC.
The Maya civilization did not have the advantage of an available source of iron ore. In Mexico iron ore only is found over 1000 miles to the north in the state of Colima. Archaeologists have determined that the Maya used stone tools fabricated from chert and obsidian. They have overlooked the wide use of specialized tools fabricated from black jadeite. In lieu of the advantage offered by iron tools, Maya technicians discovered the advantage of jadeite as a material for making tools. The size and shape of the Maya tools are identical to the variety of steel tools used by modern artisans working in stone and wood. These jadeite tools were the principal tools used by Maya technicians: sculptors, stonecutters, wood carvers, and other artisans. These tools include various sizes and shapes of chisels, gouges, adzes, axes, and hoes. They also used Obsidian tools for cutting blades and now in modern day times are used for scalpels. Aztec were relatively lesser developed according to Ian Mursell the Aztecs described Obsidian as the steel of the New World. Elite Aztec warriors were still using super-sharp obsidian blades on their weapons some 9,000 years after its earliest use. Mesoamericans perfected the technique of ‘prismatic blade production’, giving them knives, scrapers and weapon points with some of the sharpest edges known to modern sciences. Equally old of course as a tool-making resource was WOOD, used to make one of the most traditional of work tools in Mexico, still employed today by poor farmers around the country, the classic wooden digging stick called a uictli. Metallurgy involves quite complex techniques, and the Aztecs used these mostly to fashion small copper, gold and silver bells, pins, figurines and jewellery. They mastered other complex technologies to make rubber goods, textiles, ceramics and leatherwork. But ironically they’re best known for creating monumental stone sculptures - from massive jaguar figures to calendar stones - with the simplest of stone chisels, unchanged for thousands of years.

Figure 1
Tools in use.


Along with being referred to as a Stone Age culture, the Maya were a cast in a negative light because it was thought that they did not understand the concept of the wheel. In reality, without adequate beasts of burden, a wheeled cart was of no practical use to them. In lieu of beasts of burden, the Maya developed manpower to supply the kinetic energy to power their civilization. They determined that it was more efficient to use a man to transport materials than to pull the weight of a cart in addition to the “pay load” in the cart. The Maya developed a manpowered transport device known as the tumpline or “mecapal”. This enabled a single man to carry 125 pounds on his back with relative ease. The tumpline enabled a man to traverse rough trails that would be impossible for cart or wagon travel. The tumpline consists of a head strap positioned on top of the head, or across the forehead, to direct loads from the skull directly into the spinal column. The ends of the head strap are connected to a frame or to other straps to support and carry the load. One way the Aztecs transported themselves was by canoes through canals.  The Aztecs dug many waterways and canals throughout Tenochtitlan.  This main city was on an island.  The canals were dug throughout   the island for easy travel and transporting goods.  They were dug by hand with simple tools.  Aztecs built canoes to travel in canals.  First they burnt out the center of a tree, and then carved  it until it was shaped  like a canoe.  The canoes were used to bring goods to the center of the city.   Also they were  used  to  bring  fresh  fruits  and vegetables  to the public  markets. The Aztecs used no wheels in their forms of transportation. WATER MANAGEMENT

Faced with the environmental conditions of a seasonal desert and lack of surface water, Maya engineers developed technological solutions that enabled them to survive. Well-designed water management systems were needed to capture enough water during the rainy season to provide a year-round source of water for their grand cities and for the irrigation systems supporting their agriculture and aquaculture. Maya engineers designed various types of technological systems to collect and store water, creating including urban watersheds, surface reservoirs, underground structural reservoirs “chultunes”, and natural wells called “cenotes.”

The urban watershed and the open reservoir system (Mayan)

The chultune water collection system (Mayan)

The city of Tenochtitlan was built on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. They needed good farming practices to support their large population. The Aztecs devised irrigation systems,  built terraces on nearby hillsides in order for water to be efficiently be distributed throughout Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan was strategically built on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco so that water access would remain easy.

To feed the growing population Maya technology combined agricultural technology with water management to enhance the yield of their agriculture, a yield that satisfied the needs of the population with a surplus for trade. The Maya had a wide variety of cultivars; many of which constitute our basic agriculture products sold in modern super markets. Maya agricultural products include corn, squash, beans, tomatoes chili peppers, avocado, papaya, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, vanilla, peanuts pineapple, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and many others.(Beckles and Sheperd) They developed creative methodologies to enhance the agricultural yield included raised field methods and terraced fields.

Raised Field and Canal System

Terraced Fields
In comparison to the Aztecs. Aztecs created farmland with a new agricultural technique that was called chinampas or floating gardens. These manmade islands were from large woven reed mats that were piled with rich earth from the bottom of the lake. The mud was rich in minerals and ideal for growing crops. Fast growing willow trees were planted so the root systems would grow to the bottom and anchor the islands. The islands were planted with crops that produced large amounts of food. They grew tomatoes, avocados, squash, chili peppers, flowers and corn which were their principal crop.

The Maya invention of hydraulic cement and the construction of casting place concrete structures enabled the Maya to build their great high-rise cities. This durable material enabled the structures to withstand the ravages of time and the environment. They resisted the forces of earthquakes, hurricanes, and prying jungle growth to enable their survival after 2000 years. The grand buildings towering over the rainforest, the infrastructure of the large cities, water reservoirs, paved roads and long span bridges were made possible through the use of cast in place concrete in unique structures constructed by creative Maya engineers. Maya engineers developed a unique structural mechanism that enabled the construction of long span interior spaces, multi-story structures and unique circular structural geometries. This structural mechanism is known as the Maya arch. This is the basic building module for all Maya structures. The structural geometry of this system utilizes a linear inverted "V" shape to develop clear span interior spaces. In order to survive as a viable urban center, this ancient city required a dependable year-round way to cross the river. While the site had been studied by archaeologists since 1882, the need for a bridge crossing was not considered as a necessity by archaeological studies constructed in the late 7th century, landmark three-span suspension bridge crossed from the city center over the Usumacinta River to the north side where the villages and farms were located.

Bridge constructed over Usumacinta River

. The Aztec people created some of the most impressive temples and pyramids the world has ever seen. These majestic and powerful structures were built stone by stone, by hand, and must have taken the Aztecs a long time to complete. Their motivation was obviously to get closer to the skies, where they could sacrifice to their gods from atop their mighty pieces of architecture. In all their architectural endeavours though, the Aztecs maintained a unique visual style in all of the buildings and constructions. From the ball courts to their homes and living areas, the Aztecs would adorn their buildings with artistic renderings and sculptures, give them a unique style that is truly unique to this civilisation.

Example of a Mayan Arch

The Maya economy depended on trading partners, not only in Mesoamerica but across the shining seas that border the Yucatan Peninsula. Large Maya seagoing vessels plied the open seas and ventured across the Caribbean to the islands extending from Cuba to Antigua. Maya sea traders travelled afar and encountered trading partners with valuable resources that could be traded for products unique to the Maya world. The attraction of long-range trade influenced Maya technicians to expand their capabilities in nautical technology and enabled the design and construction of large, stable seaworthy cargo vessels. The vessels were swiftly propelled over the waves by manpower using paddlers. The Maya vessel carried cargo and passengers. Investigation of these vessels including eyewitness reports and examination of artefacts shows that the vessels were constructed from a single log.  Some of the items that were traded were gold ornaments, brightly coloured woven cloth and salt harvested from the lake bed.nce the Aztecs had no wheeled vehicles or pack animals, trading goods were carried by canoe and by long caravans of porters. Warriors went along to protect the caravans and the merchants

With reference Beckles and Shepherd in “Liberties Lost” they claim that before the Maya there was the Olmec, who invented systems of writing and mathematics , which were later modernised and improved by the Maya, after about 300 AD the Maya emerged with a system of mathematics that we can understand today. The Maya used the concept of zero as well as the idea of place value. Their mathematics found expression in the beautiful stone buildings they constructed, but also in the invention of lunar calendars. Experts say that this was the most scientifically advanced calendar in the world at the time. The Mayans did not have any complex instruments for charting the positions of celestial objects, so their observations were with the naked eye. They may have used rudimentary instruments, such as crossed sticks to chart position, but they lacked the armillary spheres or sextants of other civilizations. However, the Mayans were excellent builders and many of their temples and buildings are aligned to help observers monitor position. For example, many buildings pointed towards the equinoxes or midsummer, whilst other buildings had doorways and windows aligned with the most northerly or southerly rising of Venus, one of the most important celestial bodies to the Mayan culture. So accurate were their observations that their predictions of the orbit of Venus lost only two hours in a 584-day cycle. The Aztecs had two calendars, one measured time called the solar year, while the other was the ritual year used to fix religious festivals. Both calendars ran at the same time and the same day in each fell at the same time every fifty-two years. So, Aztec time was divided into 52-year cycles. In Aztec religion, the destruction of every era always occurred on the last day of each 52 year cycle (although each era lasted for several of these cycles. This was the time when the gods could decide to destroy humanity, so the most important religious event in Aztec life happened. At the center of the Aztecs' calendar stone is the sun god. He is surrounded by symbols of the five world creations. The symbols of the 20 days of the solar month are depicted on the stone. Also, eclipses of the sun were predicted by the calendar stone.

Historians claim that other aspects of the Aztec civilization was more advanced than the Maya, in terms of arts and craft along with sculpting the Aztec were way more advanced as the products were of much better quality than that of the Maya. Another difference is that the Maya was mainly city-states where city rulers had their own sovereignty, while the Aztecs were ruled by one sovereign leader, it can be deduced that theAztec showed advancement in terms of dictatorship.

In some regards, the Mayas were more advanced than other civilizations in terms of technology. Their development preceded that of the other agrarian civilizations in North and South America, principally the Aztec. This research has investigated all different aspects of Mayan and Aztec technology ranging from simple tools and mega structures(temples) to astronomical and mathematical achievement which in introspective can show that the Maya had a slight edge over the Aztec before their decline in 760 A.D. and so to the Aztec who declined in 1521showed that although they were a an advanced civilization they were not as advanced as the Maya and this can be supported by David Williams.

Friedrich Katz(1969), Ancient American Civilisations. London:Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Ronald Wright(1993),Stolen Continents; The “New World” Through Indian Eyes Beckles and Sheperd(2004), Liberties Lost;Caribbean indigenous Societies and Slave Systems

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