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Native Americans - Mayan Chieftain

Mayan Chieftain

Indigenous people of S Mexico and Central America, occupying an area comprising the Yucatn peninsula and much of the present state of Chiapas, Mexico; Guatemala and Belize; parts of El Salvador and extreme western Honduras. Speaking a group of closely related languages (with an outlier, Huastec, spoken in the Pnuco basin of Mexico), the population of Maya today is over 4 million.


Native Americans - Mayan Pyramid

Mayan Pyramid

Archaeologists divide the prehistory of the Maya region into the Formative (c.1500 B.C.A.D. 300), Classic (300900), and Postclassic (9001500) periods, and concur that in most parts of this large region the most spectacular florescence occurred during the Classic period. This was followed, in much of the area with the exception of Yucatn, by a demographic collapse at the end of which (c.A.D. 1100) close to 90% of the population had been lost. Although little understood, the earliest inhabitants seem to have been relatively few in number and practiced shifting cultivation.

Throughout Maya history, populations increased and agriculture, correlatively, became more intensive. Linked with this process, social organization became increasingly hierarchical, with increasing differentiations of wealth and status, shown primarily in the differential size and elaborateness of both residences and public buildings. Settlements in civic centers show a repeated pattern of arrangement of residences, pyramidal structures, and temples around courts or plazas, with buildings made of cut stone masonry, sculptured and stuccoed decorations, corbel-vault stone roofs, and paved plazas. Such groupings in small, poor rural settlements involve buildings of largely perishable materials and small size. Most of the elaborate carvings, relief and full-round, and the paintings, mural and ceramic, which are the hallmarks of Classic Maya art, come from the civic centers. These civic centers were numerous, including Copn in Honduras, El Mirador, Piedras Negras, Tikal, and Uaxactn in the N central Petn region of Guatemala, and Palenque and Uxmal in Mexico.

Neither during the Classic period nor at any other time does there seem to have been any political unification of the area as a whole. Rather, political organization seems to have been described by a series of small, city-statelike polities, each characterized by its own internal differentiation of status and power. While much earlier literature refers to professional rulers and priests, the present view is that the higher-status individuals were more probably heads of patrilineages, and that much of the religious complex was centered on ancestor worship rather than on universalist gods. In contrast to the civilizations of central Mexico, urbanization and occupational differentiation in the Mayan region were poorly developed, even during the Classic period. On the other hand, the Classic Maya developed a system of written hieroglyphic script, largely syllabic in nature, which, although once considered astronomical or religious in content, is now considered primarily dynastic and political. Concomitantly, a vigesimal (base 20) numerical system was used, notable in its development of the zero as placeholder; several types of calendar reckonings were in simultaneous use.

The period following A.D. 900 was one of rapid decline, and many of the major cities were abandoned. In the heartland of the lowland Maya, most major centers had been abandoned, probably more gradually than has been supposed, by around A.D. 1100. In the Yucatn highlands settlement persisted, with a probable colonization of the site of Chichn Itz by Toltec from Central Mexico. By the time of Spanish conquest, most Mayan populations were centered around small villages.

Colonial-Period Maya

The Spanish conquistadors found a number of small polities in northern Yucatn, but, on their march into Central America, encountered few inhabitants. The introduction of new diseases by the Spanish contributed to the decimation of Maya populations, leaving the region still more sparsely settled.

For the remaining groups, the Spanish conquest led to the imposition of Catholicism and the establishment of various European forms of political organization. Although this imposition was not completely effective, Spaniards either eliminated or incorporated the indigenous elite into the new colonial system, leaving the Maya-speaking population a relatively undifferentiated mass of rural peasants. Administrative centers, inhabited largely by Spaniards, were established in the 16th cent. at Mrida in Yucatn, San Cristobal in Chiapas, and Antigua Guatemala in Guatemala. The latter was destroyed in a series of earthquakes in the 18th cent., prompting Spaniards to move the administrative center to Guatemala City.

For the most part, the Maya region was peripheral to the Spanish American colonies because the lack of mineral wealth, the relatively sparse population, and the lack of land suitable for the cultivation of export crops. Taxes were collected through church tithes and through the encomienda system. Only in a few coastal regions of Guatemala and Chiapas were plantations established for the cultivation of coffee and sugar. But even these were difficult to maintain, owing to the prevalence of malaria and other tropical diseases in lowland areas and the difficulties involved in extracting labor from adjacent highland areas, where slowly increasing numbers of Maya led relatively autonomous lives.

Independence Period

Beginning in the late 18th cent., demand for cordage and fibers on the world market stimulated the formation of enormous henequen plantations throughout the northern part of the Yucatn Peninsula. Previously, villagers in the region needed only to pay relatively modest taxes and submit to occasional labor drafts in order to be left alone by colonial authorities. By the end of the 18th cent., however, village lands were suddenly subject to expropriation by Spaniards. As the plantations grew in size and number, labor drafts became increasingly onerous, particularly among groups whose lands had been expropriated. This combination of pressures led to a widespread rebellion (184754), known as the caste wars, in which the explicit goal was to drive all European populations off the Yucatn Peninsula, a goal that was nearly realized. The Spaniards were never able to fully suppress the conflagration, leaving isolated areas outside the plantation zone beyond effective governmental control throughout the 19th cent.

The Twentieth Century

In the first half of the 20th cent., most of the Maya region looked much as it had centuries earlier. Society was divided between a commercial and administrative elite group of Spanish-speaking whites and ladinos, who resided in the larger towns, and a much larger group of Maya-speaking agriculturists, who resided in rural villages. In few areas of Latin America was a racial divide so clearly demarcated, with caste-like divisions separating ladinos from the indigenous population. Although the political division between Mexico and Guatemala occurred early in the 19th cent., there were few discernible consequences prior to the years following the Mexican revolution (191017). At this time a land redistribution program, together with a set of legal guarantees preventing the expropriation of village lands, were applied to rural populations throughout Mexico; in contrast, no such guarantees were respected with regard to the Guatemalan population.

Demographic growth among Maya-speaking populations increasingly led to pressure on available resources, leading to widespread deforestation and erosion and forcing many groups to adopt commercial specializations to supplement income derived from agriculture. Among the better-known examples of the latter are the colorful cotton textiles produced in the Guatemalan highlands, marketed both locally and in industrialized countries. Also in Guatemala, seasonal labor on the growing number of coffee plantations along the Pacific coast became increasingly important throughout the first half of the 20th cent. Beginning in the 1930s and 40s, improved communications throughout the Maya region opened many new and often local economic opportunities for wage employment and commercial activity.

As Maya populations have become more tightly integrated into national economies, their distinctive ethnic markers, including dress, language, and religious practices, have often been abandoned, leaving increasing numbers culturally indistinguishable from the ladino population. Conversely, economically autonomous communities have used the same ethnic markers as a means of preserving the integrity of group boundaries and corporately held resources. Partly for this reason, the Guatemalan military unleashed a campaign of terror beginning in the mid-1970s, specifically targeting the indigenous population. All markers of traditional ethnic identity, including distinctive dress, language, and even Catholicism, became targets of military repression. Village lands were subject to widespread seizure, and government-sponsored resettlement programs were widely applied. In the 1970s and 80s there were tens of thousands of deaths and disappearances and an exodus of many hundreds of thousands, most from Maya-speaking regions, seeking sanctuary primarily in Mexico and the United States. However, over a million Maya remain in Guatemala. In Mexico, a 1994 uprising in Chiapas drew much of its strength from the support of Mayan peasants. See K. Warren, Symbols of Subordination (1979); N. M. Farriss, Maya Society Under Colonial Rule (1984); M. Coe, The Maya, (4th ed. 1987); G. D. Jones, Maya Resistance to Spanish Rule (1989); N. Hammond, Ancient Maya Civilization (1990).

A Traveller's Introduction to the Yucatec Maya  - http://chilambalam.com/sys-tmpl/homepage/
The Yucatec Mayas of yesterday and today. Archaeology, history, an online bookstore, and tour information.

Ancient Mayan by History Link 101  - http://www.historylink101.com/1/mayan/ancient_mayan.htm
Links about Mayan art, culture, and research, with maps and pictures.

Information on Healing Practices of the Maya  - http://wi.essortment.com/informationona_pds.htm
Article from PageWise. Will open more windows when you try to leave.

Maya Calendar  - http://hermetic.magnet.ch/cal_stud/maya/cont.htm
A thorough explanation of the Maya Calendar, covering the long count, the tzolkin-haab and the relation between the Maya Calendar and the European.

Maya History  - http://www.cloud10.com/OMG/history.html
History of the Mayans from the Guatemalan Mayan Organization.

Maya: Portraits of a People  - http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/specex/maya/maya.htm
Overview of Mayan cultural history and archaeology; museum exhibit site (McClung Museum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville).

Mayan Civilization  - http://www.indians.org/welker/maya.htm
Information on the locations and developments of Maya civilization plus references to the history of the related archeological research.

Mayan Civilization  - http://www.angelfire.com/fl4/groupproject/index.html
Essay on Mayan history including photos, architecture, and calendar information.

Mayan Math  - http://www.cancunsteve.com/mayan.htm
Overview of ancient Mayan mathematics, with additional historical resources.

Mundo Maya Online  - http://www.mayadiscovery.com/ing/
Maya culture past and present, with many historical articles. Available in English and Spanish.

Mystery of the Maya  - http://www.civilisations.ca/membrs/civiliz/maya/mminteng.html
Information about the Maya: calendars, astronomy, how the Maya people grew crops, the sacrifices they performed, and their different gods.

The Ancient Maya  - http://www.mayaparadise.com/mayabege.htm
A brief history of the Mayan civilization with a link to an article on transoceanic diffusion.

The Mayan Calendar  - http://www.mayan-calendar.com
Mayan calendars for sale. Codex-style glyphs for each day, long counts for the first day of each month.

The Mayan Epigraphic Database Project (MED)  - http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/med/home.html
An experiment in networked scholarship with the purpose of enhancing Classic Mayan epigraphic research. At present, MED consists of a relational database of glyphs ("gnumbers"), images, phonetic values ("pvalues"), and semantic values ("svalues") according to the consensus among various American Mayanists.

Dresden Codex  - http://www.baktun.de/Dating_the_eclipse_table/dating_the_eclipse_table.html
Dating the eclipse table of the Dresden Codex, with solution of the correlation problem. Technical.

Mesoamerican Archaeoastronomy  - http://www.geocities.com/jqjacobs/meso_astro.html
A review of prehispanic astronomic knowledge: numeration, calendars, dates, stelae, codices and architecture. Extensive bibliography

Review-Essay of Mayan Prophecies  - http://edj.net/mc2012/mproph.htm
By John Major Jenkins, author of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. A number of flaws in their book are highlighted.

The Maya Astronomy Page  - http://www.astro.uva.nl/~michielb/maya/astro.html
The astronomy and star lore of the Maya Codices.

The Mayan Prophecies  - http://home.hccnet.nl/h.de.jong/mayan.html
Overview of the book by Adrian Gilbert and Maurice Cotterell, which shows links between sunspot cycles, Mayan myth and astrological tables.

El Cayo Project  - http://www.ucalgary.ca/UofC/faculties/SS/ARKY/cayo/elcayo.html
A Late Classic Maya site (ca. AD 600 to 800), which was part of the Piedras Negras political sphere. Peter Mathews and Mario Aliphat of the University of Calgary describe their excavations and mapping there.

Lords of Copan (National Geographic)  - http://www.nationalgeographic.com/copan/
Virtual tour of one of the largest Mayan ruins.

Maya Archaeological Sites in Yucatan  - http://www.thenettraveler.com/Yucatan/ArqYuc_in.htm
Information from Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Dzibilchaltun. Includes location, photos, history, and services.

Maya Calendar  - http://hermetic.magnet.ch/cal_stud/maya/cont.htm
A thorough explanation of the Maya Calendar, covering the long count, the tzolkin-haab and the relation between the Maya Calendar and the European.

Maya Motifs  - http://www.mayamotifs.com
Art featuring designs from the Tzolkin, the ritual calendar of the Maya.

Maya Ruins  - http://www.snowcrest.net/goehring/maya/
Ken Goehring gives an illustrated history and tour of Mayan sites in chronological order. Prepared for the College of the Siskiyous.

Maya Ruins  - http://members.tripod.com/~PHILKON/maya.html
Photographs and descriptions by Phil Konstantin. Includes Chichen Itza, Kabah, Uxmal, Labna, Xlapak, Sayil, Palenque, Xpujil, Becan and Museo de la Cultura Maya.

Maya: Portraits of a People  - http://www.nationalgeographic.com/events/releases/pr990312a.html
A press release from the National Geographic describes an exhibition focusing on the Maya past and present, organized by the National Geographic Society and the Frank H. McClung Museum.

Maya: Portraits of a People  - http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/specex/maya/maya.htm
An overview of Mayan cultural history and archaeology: museum exhibit site from the McClung Museum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Mayan Astronomy  - http://personal.msy.bellsouth.net/msy/b/m/bmartin3
Frederick Martin discusses native American astronomy in the Classic Period Mayan: Dresden Codex Eclipse and Venus Tables.

Mayan Beginnings  - http://www.mayaparadise.com/mayabege.htm
A brief history of the Mayan civilization with a link to an article on transoceanic diffusion.

Mayan Civilization  - http://www.indians.org/welker/maya.htm
Glenn Welker describes the locations and development of Maya civilization. Michael Lemonick gives a history of the related archeological research.

Mayan Civilization  - http://www.angelfire.com/fl4/groupproject/index.html
A school project by Sujal Parikh introducing the Maya and their architecture, astronomy and calendar. Map, reconstruction painting of a Mayan temple.

Mayan Collection  - http://www.mayancollection.com
Rubbings of Mayan stelae from 1970-71 in Guatemala. Color reprints from views of Maya monuments in Central America published in 1844 by Catherwood. Detailed photographs, rubbings, and illustrations. Ancient monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan and other pertinent subject areas.

Mayan Treasure is to be Returned Home to Belize  - http://belizeone.com/BzLibrary/trust130.html
The Belize Development Trust reproduces an article from the Toronto Globe and Mail reporting the return of Mesoamerican artifacts from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Mundo Maya Online  - http://www.mayadiscovery.com/ing/
Online version of Mundo Maya Magazine, specializing in the Maya culture. Available in English and Spanish. Detailed articles on archeological topics.

Mystery of the Maya  - http://www.civilisations.ca/membrs/civiliz/maya/mminteng.html
Information about the Maya from the Canadian Museum of Civilization: calendars, astronomy, how the Maya people grew crops, the sacrifices they performed, and their gods.

Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute  - http://www.mesoweb.com/pari/
PARI was founded by the indefatiguable Merle Greene Robertson and contains results of much of the latest in Maya research, particularly regarding Palenque and its excavations.

Songs of Dzitbalche  - http://www.jps.net/redcoral/Dzit.html
The only surviving book of ancient Mayan poetry, translated into English, a window into the culture and spirituality of a lost world.

The Caracol Archaeological Project  - http://caracol.org/
Large, ongoing Maya archaeological site in Belize, Central America.

The Maya Ruins Page  - http://mayaruins.com/
Photos from Uxmal, Labna, Sayil, Chacmultun, Becan, Xpujil, Tikal, Xunantunich, Lamanai, Kohunlich, Chicanna, Edzna, and Dzibilnocac.

The Mayan Calendar  - http://www.mayan-calendar.com
Order your own beautiful black-and-white photos of Copan, Palenque, Tikal, Uxmal, Quirigua, and Chicanna. Codex-style glyphs for each day. Long counts for the first day of each month.

Virtual Palenque  - http://www.virtualpalenque.com
Virtual tour of the Maya ruins in Chiapas, Mexico.

Western Belize Regional Cave Project  - http://php.indiana.edu/~casgriff/Belize/CAVE.html
Aimed at understanding the use of caves by the prehistoric Maya. Photographs and information on the caves.

Lamanai Archaeological Project  - http://www.lamanai.org/
Includes history, and information about York University classes.

Lamanai On-Site Museum  - http://www.rom.on.ca/digs/belize/on-site.html
Information and photos.

Photos from Lamanai  - http://mayaruins.com/lamanai.html
Includes photos, and information about David Pendergast, who excavated the site.

Guatemalan Maya Archeology  - http://www.quetzalnet.com/QuetzalNET/Archeology.html
Brief description of the temples and plazas at Tikal. Includes some information about other El Petn archeological sites.

Lords of Tikal by Peter D. Harrison  - http://www.mayarealm.com
An account of the history and archeology.