Early Civilizations

     My Home Page







Perhaps no other ancient civilization embodies mystery more than the Mayan civilization. Lasting from 1200 BC until the Spanish conquest in AD 1697, they were renowned for their art and elaborate architecture, highly developed style of hieroglyphic writing, mathematics and astronomy. The great Maya cities, such as Copan, Palenque, Tikal, Chichen Itza are renowned for their grandeur and mystic. Many of the great Mayan sites lie in tropical rain-forest and it is suspected that many more are as yet undiscovered because of difficulties in exploring this terrain.

But where did the Mayans acquire their knowledge? Maya legend attributes it to their deity, called Kukulkan by the Yucatec Maya or Gucumatz by the Quiche Maya. The English translation of these words is 'Feathered Serpent', which is also the English translation for the Aztec deity, Quetzalcoatl! In fact the Toltecs, and before them, the Olmecs also appeared to have a 'Feathered Serpent' deity. It seems to be ubiquitous in Mesoamerica and even in South America as with the Inca Viracocha.

The Mayans regarded their deity to be the founder of their great cities and laws, and their science and knowledge. The 'Popul Vuh' is the Maya book of creation and has parallels with the Christian book of creation, Genesis.

In Chichen Itza, the Mayans built a ziggurat that towers to 100 feet, the Temple of Kukulkan, to honour this deity, this feathered-serpent. It has four staircases, containing 365 steps corresponding to the number of days in the year and was designed and orientated with great precision so that in the Spring and Autumn equinoxes patterns of light and shadow combine to create an illusion of a giant serpent descending the northern staircase.

The Mayans were very skilful builders and craftsmen (but yet never learned the concept of the arch in building and never discovered the wheel). There buildings required massive investments in labour, they were by all accounts a very labour intensive civilization. Their religious practices appear to have revolved around a cycle calculated from a calender derived from astronomical observations. Indeed their calender suggests that the Maya had a concept of time which was vast. They recognised the cyclic concept of time. There most important time cycle lasted 5125 years, starting with the creation of the world in 3113 BC and ending in 2012 AD. So what happened the ancient Maya? How could such a successful, dominent and vibrant civilization have fallen so quickly? Experts seem to think it was a combination of famine from both over-farming and environmental change followed by civil strife