The Essence of Maya
88 Pages

The Essence of Maya



Of all pre-Hispanic cultures, the Maya have perhaps attracted the most attention on the part of archaeologists and historians. Their cultural proliferation, their extraordinary scientific contributions, and their epic survival have given rise to eccentric myths and even supernatural connotations. With the confusing array of texts, predictions, studies, and suppositions, we need to step back and ask : What is, in fact, the essence of Maya? This first volume in the series Discover the Maya World sheds light on the features that define and frame Mayanist studies, from the earliest examples onward, leading to a detailed analysis of the identity, architecture, culture, and legacy of this fascinating people.



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Published 01 August 2011
Reads 46
EAN13 9786078187027
License: All rights reserved
Language English
Document size 1 MB

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The Essence of Maya
or their great achievements and advances in the fields of both science and F art, the Maya are considered the most original and sophisticated ancient culture of the American continents. Already in the sixteenth century, the Span iards marveled at the complexity of this civilization and the splendor of its archi tecture. For example, in hisRelación de las cosas de Yucatán(Account of the Things of the Yucatán), the priestFray Diego de Landathe grandiosity of highlights the monuments ofIzamal,Chichén Itzá,Mayapán, andT’hó, the ancient city of Puuc that was painstakingly destroyed to proudly foundMérida, the very heart of Spanish dominion in the northern Maya lands.
Despite these early impressions, not until the nineteenth century would explor ers and travelers acquaint the modern world with the spectacular Maya cities that lay hidden in the jungles of southwest Mexico and Central America. These same sites offer valuable evidence today of a unique culture, one that underwent as tonishing development which would only be possible within the framework of social, political, and economic organization.
Photo: Patricia Carrillo Medrano. Partial view of El Castillo, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2006.
Frederick Catherwood. Detail of the stairs and one of the plumed serpents descending from El Castillo, Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, Mexico, 1843 (lithograph).
As more and more travelers visited the re gion and gave reports of the spectacular Maya sites, myths about this culture began to spread, inspired by the travelers’ amaze ment at these enigmatic cities. It was only natural to wonder who had built and lived in them, a question that gave rise to myriad hypotheses on their true origin. Thus, for
example, for the explorerAugustus Le Plongeon(18251908), the only possible explanation for how such a culture could have developed in America was that it was the work of immigrants from Atlantis, an idea taken up again by his wife, Alice Dixon Le Plongeon (1851–1910), for the plot of her workQueen Móo’s Talisman.
The Essence of Maya
Photo: Luis Alberto Martos López. Panorama of the inner precinct at Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2006.
After the Second World War new myths fired the imagination, idealizing Maya cul ture. Scholars tried to find in the Maya an exemplary society—a unique civiliza tion in which aggression and warfare had no place; a people that lived in harmony throughout its history and came to realize grand achievements under the beneficent, peaceful, and wise leadership of its kings and priests. It was only logical, following the bleak horrors of the war, to long for
Frederick Catherwood. Zoomorphic altar stela, Copán, Honduras, 1841 (lithograph).
the existence of a peaceful society devoted to agriculture, commerce, the observation of the heavens, and the development of the arts and sciences.
As research advanced, however, the myth collapsed. Notwithstanding their accom plishments, we know today that warfare among the Maya was as common as their mathematic calculations or agricultural techniques.
Based on this research, and shedding all myths and hypotheses, we shall attempt to identify the essence of Maya. What el ements define this peculiar culture that forms part of the Mesoamerican mosaic? There is no simple answer, given that this was a civilization that developed great knowledge in science and the arts. But exhaustive analysis of archaeological, his torical, and epigraphic findings brings us closer to understanding Maya essence. Its defining characteristics fall into two gen eral categories: formal and functional.
On the seacoast there are some caverns, on the coast of Polé [Xcaret] and Ascen sion Bay, that hurl water up among the hollows within the crags and rise more than two spears high.
The Essence of Maya
Fray Diego de Landa
Frederick Catherwood. El Castillo, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 1843 (lithograph).