Apr 1, 2017

Mayas, Mayan, Mayab

Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.

Nicole Kidman

Calakmul, near Guatemala, photo from archeological site
The people of the corn, or Mayas, have a Mayan culture and many of them live in Mayab, their land.  They are often mistakenly called Mayans.

Even though we currently see empty temples, pyramids, whole ancient cities, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Mayan civilization collapsed, it simply evolved.  There are still 6-7 million Mayas in the Americas.

How did they build these amazing structures considering the following?
  • They never used wheels even though they were aware of them (some can be found in Mayan toys).
  • They were aware of metals but had no interest in them, they stuck to using stones
  • They never used beasts of burden to help with heavy loads, doing it all themselves.
  • They had no units of measurements like feet or meters.  All their construction was based on using a length of rope to draw circles and rectangular shapes.  Called ‘Sacred Geometry”, it resembles nature, petals, curves, seashells, etc.
There are many more interesting facts about the Mayas such as:
  • When the Mayan civilization was at its peak, Paris was barely a village.
  • They counted in units of 20 rather than units of 10 like we do.
  • They were possibly the first people to use/create flushing toilets.
  • They had an underground water system sophisticated enough to allow them to push water uphill.
  • Unlike the Romans who had invented the arch with a keystone at the top, the Mayas had corbeled arches which could only span very narrow distances.  Their dead were usually buried ender their own homes except for royalty who had temples built to honor their passing and much more.
  • Only half of the Mayan glyphs have been deciphered.  Only 4 codices have been used to try and crack the code.  Two more codices were just found and the hope is that they will help solve the rest of that mystery.  They were only one of five cultures on Earth to develop an original written language, in company with the Chinese, Harappans, Sumerians, and Egyptians.
  • They were fascinated by time and its many cycles, long or short.  From eclipses to the next equinox, etc. 
  • They believed in the power of their blood.  The leader would often pierce his foreskin with a stingray spine or cut it with a sharp obsidian and let the blood flow on paper.  That paper would then be burned sending messages to the gods, hoping for rain, good crops, fertility, etc.
  • Stairways up the temples were steepest at the bottom, a psychological advantage to the ones already on top.  It made the person coming up or down, hesitant when encountering the steepness.
  • To this day, no one knows how they could’ve fed so many people with soil so poor.  What cultivation techniques did they use, or did they trade for the food?  BYU students did a study that showed the Mayas could only use the soil for 2 or 3 years then have it go fallow for 10-25 before planting again.  That is a very long rotation. 
  • Still unsure of the meaning of their famous ball game.  Did the ball represent the sun?  Did the loser go to their death?  Was it simply entertainment?  Much like soccer, the ball could not be carried or hit with the hand.  The ball was made of leather and weighed 8 pounds (3.5 kilos), a very bruising kind of sport!
They were not a peaceful civilization but they definitively were very knowledgeable in many things.  Visiting these ruined cities reminds us that civilizations are a complex construct that can be seriously screwed up.  Would we learn from that history?

Calakmul

The most remote of the ruins we have visited.  We had to drive one hour’s worth of road full of potholes go get there.  Well worth it as you could walk on nearly all structures.  A few frescoes could be seen behind metal doors with peepholes but we didn’t have a flashlight handy so we didn’t get to see them.  We saw toucans, spider monkeys, hawks, beautiful large blue morpho butterflies, etc.

With a structure 148 feet (35 meters) tall, we get a view of Guatemala some 20 miles away. 
Tallest known Mayan structure.
Some of the 117 steles are starting to be engulfed by trees
View of another tall structure above the tree line
Not for people with fear of heights or vertigo.  Very steep
Five steles.  Mike there for size…
Spider monkey sleeping
 It would turn its head away from camera each time I tried to take a picture of it
Ek Balam

Closer to the famous Chichén Itza which we avoided due to its overcrowding.  Ek Balam is much quieter and has stunningly well-kept or reconstructed sculptures.  The view from there is amazing, another 360°.

Corbeled arch, four sided
Can you spot the dog?
Very well preserved sculptures, now under roof for longer preservation
Teeth of the jaguar, over-world, under-world, cave entrance. 
General theme in many temples
Close-up of intricate sculptures

More glyphs
Kuluba

An unknown site few ever see near Tizimin.  On a ranch where we met the owner, Gilberto, who used to have 180 head of cattle, but only has 55 now because he is 70 years old.  He sure had a lot of energy for someone that age.  We wondered if we had the right road as we kept driving inside various ranches, but no one questioned our driving through and we eventually found this little gem.

Only covered area for preservation, intricate lace-like work
Serpent like head is actually profile of the god of water, Chaac
Little treasures all around
Corbeled arch the length of this building.  Many bats now inhabit its peak
Swapping stories with Gilberto who doesn’t look a day over 50
Sayil

One of the many sites on the main Ruta de Ruinas but we avoided most of them due to crowd.  This is the only one that seemed quiet, probably due to a very hot afternoon.  We could also bring Nikki, a big bonus for us.

Pink stones - beautiful
More details
The crest of El Mirador
More details - almost elephant like
The pink highlighted with black mold is very interesting
Another elephant like profile, another Chaac?

Each site has similarities and differences.  All Mayan origin with different personalities.  Well worth seeing.



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