Guatemala is, unquestionably, the heart of the Mayan world. Within its territory, the Mayas' greatest cities flourished, centers of commerce and culture for the Meso-American region. The greatest of these, Tikal, attracts thousands of visitors every year, but there are hundreds of other archaeological sites that scientists have not even begun to study.
The Maya civilization is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as its spectacular art, monumental architecture, and sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Preclassic period, many of these reached their apogee of development during the Classic period (c. 250 to 900), and continued throughout the Postclassic period until the arrival of the Spanish. At its peak, it was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world.
The Mayan civilization shares many features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the high degree of interaction and cultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya; however, their civilization fully developed them.
There are 21 Maya languages in Guatemala. Of those, we list in this page the following: Ch'orti', Q'anjobal, Akateko and Jakalteko. In another page: Mam, Ixil, Q'eqchi', K'iche', Tz'utujil, Achi, and Poqomam. Not listed yet in GeoNative: Poqomchi, Itzaj, Mopan, Chuj, Tektiteko, Awakateko, Uspanteko, Sipakapense, Sakapulteko, Kakchiquel, and Poqomchi. There are also several Maya languages in Mexico (as Yucatec and Tzotzil, see this page). The language of the Classical Maya civilisation was of the Cholan sub-family of Mayan languages. Ch'orti' is the present-day Guatemalan language closest to that spoken by the builders of Tikal.
The Mayans Culture is considered to be one of the largest culture in the American continent because of their knowledge in sciences, astrology and more. They developed a mayan calendar based on the movement of the planets, the mayas used this calendar to predict future astrological events and now there is a belief that the ending of the mayan calendar in 2012 means the end of the world as we know it. To learn more and to create your own perspective of things you can click here to read more about the year 2012
This civilization was born during the third millennium before Christ, living in a 320,000 square kilometers territory, taking in regions of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and part of El Salvador.
Through the centuries they were able to form a great civilization. the main Mayan tribes gave origin to todays several dialects. This civilization had the power for over 2000 years; from the VI century B.C. to the XV century they lived and formed three periods:
Preclassic (Periodo Preclasico)
From the 1500’s B.C. to the year 292 A.D.; this was the period where Agriculture began (corn cultivation). Monochrome ceramic, stone carving and the construction of the first buildings in places like Kaminal Juyú, Izapa, El Baúl, Tikal, Uaxactún, Dzibilchaltún are part of this period as well. During this time the Mayans appear in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras, this period is considered a time of small development.
Archaelological evidence suggests the construction of ceremonial architecture in Maya area by approximately 1000 BC. The earliest configurations of such architecture consist of simple burial mounds, which would be the precursors to the stepped pyramids subsequently erected in the Late Preclassic. Prominent Middle and Late Preclassic settlement zones are located in the southern Maya lowlands, specifically in the Mirador and Petén Basins.
Important sites in the southern Maya lowlands include Nakbe, El Mirador, Cival, and San Bartolo. In the Guatemalan Highlands Kaminal Juyú emerges around 800 BC. For many centuries it controlled the Jade and Obsidian sources for the Petén and Pacific Lowlands. The important early sites of Izapa, Takalik Abaj and Chocolá at around 600 BC were the main producers of Cacao. Mid-sized Maya communities also began to develop in the northern Maya lowlands during the Middle and Late Preclassic, though these lacked the size, scale, and influence of the large centers of the southern lowlands.
Two important Preclassic northern sites include Komchen and Dzibilchaltun. There is some disagreement about the boundaries which differentiate the physical and cultural extent of the early Maya and neighboring Preclassic Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmec culture of the Tabasco lowlands and the Mixe-Zoque– and Zapotec–speaking peoples of Chiapas and southern Oaxaca, respectively. Many of the earliest significant inscriptions and buildings appeared in this overlapping zone, and evidence suggests that these cultures and the formative Maya influenced one another. Takalik Abaj in the Pacific slopes of Guatemala, is the only site where Olmec and then Maya features, have been found.
This period, from the year 292 to 900 A.D witnessed the peak of large-scale construction and urbanism, the recording of monumental inscriptions, and a period of significant intellectual and artistic development, particularly in the southern lowland regions. They developed an agriculturally intensive, city-centered empire consisting of numerous independent city-states. This includes the well-known cities of Tikal, Palenque, Copán and Calakmul, but also the lesser known Dos Pilas, Uaxactun, Altun Ha, and Bonampak, among others.
The Maya participated in long distance trade with many of the other Mesoamerican cultures, including Teotihuacan, the Zapotec and other groups in central and gulf-coast Mexico, as well as with more distant, non-Mesoamerican groups. For example the Tainos in the caribbean, also archaeologists found gold from Panama in the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza. Important trade goods included cacao, salt, sea shells, jade and obsidian. This period can be divided into two stages: The Early Period and The Late Period.
The Early Period
(periodo temprano) and the LATE PERIOD (periodo tardio). The Early Period goes from the year 292 to the year 650 A.D.; during this time the “teocrático” system governed the society in the Usumacinta, Chiapas, Yucatan, Petén and part of Honduras territories. The mathematic sciences were developed, as well as astronomy, chronology, hieroglyphic writing, ceramic arts and sciences like medicine. This Empire built big cities like PIEDRAS NEGRAS, TIKAL, UAXACTÚN, QUIRIGUA, BONAMPAK, PALENQUE, COPÁN; cities like TIKAL, PALENQUE and COPÁN are the most important ones.
The Late Period
In this period, the Mayan Culture flourished and it reached its maximum splendor and acme, developing arts, agricultural advances, highly developed numeration system, a solar and religious calendar and also a new sophisticated construction systems for pyramids and buildings. The most important Mayan cities of this period were Tikal, Uaxactún, Piedras Negras, Copán, Quirigua Yaxchilán, Boanampak and Palenque, in the southern area were Kaminal Juyú, and in the northern area cities like Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Xpuhil, Hochob and Labna were the major ones.
During the succeeding Postclassic period, development in the northern centers persisted, characterized by an increasing diversity of external influences. like the previous period this has two stages; the "Early Period" (periodo temprano) is the first stage, starting in the year 900 to the year 1250; and the second stage called “Late Period” (periodo tardio) from the year 1250 to 1527 A.D. In this period the Mayan empire decadence began due to influences of foreign groups, these groups began to exercise pressure over the Mayan people, their religion and government, creating wars, which created great disorganization and disintegration for the great Mayan civilization that culminated with the Spanish invasion in 1527.
All through the “New Empire” the most powerful cities were: Chichen Itzá, Uxmal and Mayapán. According to historians the origin of this great Mayan Race is still unknown, and not even the exact meaning of their name "MAYA" has been deciphered yet, We also ignore the reason who most of their people disappeared. If they emigrated to faraway lands or unknown directions is still a mystery.
The ending of Mayan Civilation
For reasons that are still debated, the Maya centers of the southern lowlands went into decline during the 8th and 9th centuries and were abandoned shortly thereafter. This decline was coupled with a cessation of monumental inscriptions and large-scale architectural construction. Although there is no universally accepted theory to explain this “collapse,” current theories fall into two categories: non-ecological and ecological. Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into several subcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change.
There is evidence that the Mayan population exceeded carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and overhunting of megafauna. Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to the collapse of Mayan civilization. The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds, ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community.
El Mirador BasinSource information: Wikipedia.org
The Mirador Basin is a geographically defined elevated basin found in the remote rain forest of the northern department of Petén, Guatemala. The basin is dominated by low lying swamps called bajos. The basin is surrounded by rugged karstic limestone hills on the east, south, and to a lesser degree, the western side, forming a triangular geographical trough covering more than 2169 square kilometers.
The region belongs to the Maya Biosphere Reserve that represents the last large area of intact tropical forest left in Mesoamerica. Archaeological and environmental studies conducted by the Mirador Basin Project, Directed by Dr. Richard Hansen, previously known as the Regional Archaeological Investigation of the North Petén, Guatemala (RAINPEG) Project, have identified data relevant to the origins and early development of the Maya in this area that is exceptional.
The research and development of the Mirador Basin is in close cooperation and collaboration with the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History (IDAEH), the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports (Cultura y Deportes), the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (INGUAT), the National Council of Protected Areas, Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas (CONAP), and the Presidency of the Republic of Guatemala. In addition, the project is working closely with community organizations in the department of Petén. The IDB, along with The National Geographic Society, FAMSI, FARES, and the Carlos Novella Foundation, among other private sponsors, have given economic support to the project.
During the past two decades, the region has been the object of scientific investigations at the large Middle and Late Preclassic sites of El Mirador, Nakbe, Tintal, Wakna, the recently discovered site of Xulnal, and numerous smaller settlements, dating mostly to the Classic period, such as La Florida, Maaxte, Zacatal, Chan Kan, Tsab Kan, Pedernal, Isla, La Muerta, and La Muralla. Dozens of additional sites are dispersed within the Basin, including several extremely large ones such as Naachtun in the northeast corner which is currently under investigation by a team from the University of Calgary in Canada (Director: Kathryn Reese-Taylor).
The primary settlement of the major sites in the basin dates to the Middle Preclassic (ca. 1000 BC-350 BC) and Late Preclassic periods (ca. 350 BC-AD 150), with relatively little overburden from the large scale constructions and extensive settlements that characterized the Classic periods (AD 250-900) of Lowland Maya civilization.