The Great Maya Civilization
The Lost Mayan Civilization are perhaps the classic example of a civilization that was completely lost, its great monuments, cities and roads swallowed up by the central American jungles, and its peoples scattered to small villages. Though the languages and traditions of the Maya still survive up to the present day, the civilization’s peak was during the first millennium AD, when their greatest architectural feats and massive agricultural projects covered a vast region in the Yucatán — today, an area stretching from Mexico to Guatemala and Belize. One of the largest Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya made extensive use of writing, math, an elaborate calendar, and sophisticated engineering to build their pyramids and terraced farms. Though it’s often said that the Maya civilization began a mysterious decline in roughly the year 900, a great deal of evidence points to climate change in the Yucatán combined with internecine warfare, which resulted in famine and abandonment of the city centers.
What Really Destroyed The Maya Civilization
One of the biggest debates in archaeology is what destroyed the extensive, highly-advanced Maya civilization 1,000 years ago. It’s known that the empire went through a long collapse from roughly 800 to 1,000, leaving behind a network of pyramids and monumental architecture in the Yucatán jungles. But why? We have only educated guesses, and one of the most widely-believed theories is that some kind of climate catastrophe drove the Maya to abandon their cities in droves.
Now, two Earth scientists have carefully analyzed rock samples from the Yucatán, which revealed water levels in local lakes, as well as chemical traces that show likely rainfall over the decades of the collapse. What the scientists found was more evidence that the region suffered from drought during the typically rainy summers — but the drought was fairly mild. There were probably fewer hurricanes in the ocean driving rainstorms to land. In a paper published today in Science, researchers Martín Medina-Elizalde and Eelco J. Rohling call it “a succession of extended drought periods interrupted by brief recoveries.”
Is it really possible that a mild drought, no matter how many centuries it lasted, could really topple an empire? After all, civilizations in Europe have endured everything from plagues to the Little Ice Age, and people did not abandon the cities.
Medina-Elizalde and Rohling suggest:
If these repeated episodes of drier climate had a significant role in the fate of the Classic Maya civilization, as suggested by archaeological evidence, then this would imply that the ecological carrying capacity of the Yucatán Peninsula is highly sensitive to precipitation reductions.
In other words, it’s possible that it didn’t take much of a drought to usher in a catastrophic series of crop losses or other environmental problems. And these problems, in turn, could foment dramatic social upheavals.
The scientists note that this does not bode well for the future of the region, since in coming decades the Yucatán Peninsula is likely to experience “modest reductions in precipitation” like those during the collapse of the Maya civilization.
Were the Maya brought down by a small shift in climate, or were there complicated political issues involved as well? Other archaeologists explain that the Maya were at war for much of the collapse period, and indeed, had enormous wars throughout much of their history.
Ultimately, we have to consider the possibility that it wasn’t simply a mild drought that destroyed the Empire, but that the Empire also destroyed itself the way many great European and Asian powers have — by waging war until their resources were depleted and no willing soldiers were left. The Maya probably weren’t just passive victims of climate change. They were a powerful polity, spread out across huge swathes of the Yucatán. They had advanced agricultural techniques, and new LiDAR studies of regions around Maya center Caracol reveal that they remolded much of the land in the area to make way for farms, roads, and homes. Given their technological sophistication, it’s possible that the Maya might have survived the drought if it hadn’t been for war taxing their resources. In other words, the Mayan Empire’s demise may have resulted from a mix of social and environmental factors, and would have been far more complex than mere food shortages due to drought.
How Does the Mayan Calendar Work?
The Maya calendar is a system of three interlacing calendars and almanacs which was used by several cultures in Central America, most famously the Maya civilization.
The calendar dates back to at least the 5th century BCE (Before Common Era) and is still in use in a few Mayan communities today.
The Mayan calendar moves in cycles with the last cycle ending in December 2012. This has often been interpreted as the world will end on 21 December 2012, at 11:11 UTC.
Not a Maya Invention
The Maya didn’t invent the calendar, it was used by most cultures in pre-Columbian Central America – including the Maya – from around 2000 BCE to the 16th century. The Mayan civilization developed the calendar further and it’s still in use in some Maya communities today.
Wheels Working Together
The Mayan Calendar consists of three separate corresponding calendars, the Long Count, the Tzolkin (divine calendar) and the Haab (civil calendar). Time is cyclical in the calendars and a set number of days must occur before a new cycle can begin.
The three calendars are used simultaneously. The Tzolkin and the Haab identify and name the days, but not the years. The Long Count date comes first, then the Tzolkin date and last the Haab date. A typical Mayan date would read: 22.214.171.124.0 4 Ahau 8 Kumku, where 126.96.36.199.0 is the Long Count date, 4 Ahau is the Tzolkin date and 8 Kumku is the Haab date.
The Haab is a 365 day solar calendar which is divided into 18 months of 20 days each and one month which is only 5 days long (Uayeb). The calendar has an outer ring of Mayan glyphs (pictures) which represent each of the 19 months. Each day is represented by a number in the month followed by the name of the month. Each glyph represents a personality associated with the month.
The Haab is somewhat inaccurate as it is exactly 365 days long. An actual tropical or solar year is 365.2422 days long. In today’s Gregorian calendar we adjust for this discrepancy by making almost every fourth year a leap year by adding an extra day – a leap day – on the 29th of February.
The divine calendar is also known as the Sacred Round or the Tzolkin which means “the distribution of the days”. It is a 260-day calendar, with 20 periods of 13 days used to determine the time of religious and ceremonial events. Each day is numbered from one to thirteen, and then repeated. The day is also given a name (glyph) from a sequence of 20 day names. The calendar repeats itself after each cycle.
The Long Count
The Long Count is an astronomical calendar which was used to track longer periods of time, what the Maya called the “universal cycle”. Each such cycle is calculated to be 2,880,000 days (about 7885 solar years). The Mayans believed that the universe is destroyed and then recreated at the start of each universal cycle. This belief still inspires a myriad of prophesies about the end of the world.
The “creation date” for the current cycle we are in today, is 4 Ahaw, 8 Kumku. According to the most common conversion, this date is equivalent to August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar or September 6 in the Julian calendar.
How to Set the Date
A date in the Maya calendar is specified by its position in both the Tzolkin and the Haab calendars which aligns the Sacred Round with the Vague Year creating the joint cycle called the Calendar Round, represented by two wheels rotating in different directions. The Calendar round cycle takes approximately 52 years to complete.
The smallest wheel consists of 260 teeth with each one having the name of the days of the Tzolkin. The larger wheel consists of 365 teeth and has the name of each of the positions of the Haab year. As both wheels rotate, the name of the Tzolkin day corresponds to each Haab position.
The date is identified by counting the number of days from the “creation date”.
A typical long count date has the following format: Baktun.Katun.Tun.Uinal.Kin.
- Kin = 1 Day.
- Uinal = 20 kin = 20 days.
- Tun = 18 uinal = 360 days.
- Katun = 20 tun = 360 uinal = 7,200 days.
- Baktun = 20 katun = 400 tun = 7,200 uinal = 144,000 days.
The kin, tun and katun are numbered from zero to 19; the uinal are numbered from zero to 17; and the baktun are numbered from one to 13. The Long Count has a cycle of 13 baktuns, which will be completed 1.872.000 days (13 baktuns) after 0.0.0.0.0. This period equals 5125.36 years and is referred to as the “Great Cycle” of the Long Count.
Have you ever heard what happened to The Lost Gobleki Tepe Temple ? Or The Lost City of Niya? How about the Lost City Angkor Civilization? or Nabta Playa and the Indus Valley Civilization ?