Considered one of the most advanced civilizations of ancient Central America, the Mayans have been regarded as one of the most interesting and fascinating subjects of historical and archeological studies for decades. As much of their historical records were later destroyed by the Spanish, who saw them as demonic in content, the beginnings of the Mayans are still somewhat submerged in mystery. What proof, that still exists, shows that the civilization predates back from 200 to 900 A.D., a time when they were also at their highest peak of accomplished culture.
They did not have one complete empire but actually dwelt in several separate city domains. These cities were spread through many different parts of Mexico, instead of close proximity of each other. Each city functioned as an individual hierarchy with the high priests being the dominant force within the overall population. Their religious practices of human sacrifice appears barbaric to us today but at its time within the history of humankind, the Mayans were not the only ones who followed a spirituality that included human sacrifice. Their understanding of science and geological architecture are amazing for what they accomplished. What they discovered and applied is a marvel now when we consider the lack of communication and knowledge of the outside world that they had.
The Mayans of that era were a self-sufficient and knowledgeable race of people so the disappearance of their civilization and culture has posed a question as to what possible reasons could have caused it. They were not as the Inca and Aztec civilizations that were brought to ruin by the Spanish conquistadors but had ended mostly before the Spanish arrived.
One accepted reason was the fact that though the Mayans were basically a peaceful people, they did war against with each other and were eventually conquered by the Toltec, another aboriginal tribe of the same era and area. This shift occurred in the tenth century whereas the Spanish did not arrive until the late fifteenth century. Over the next few hundred years, the Mayan and Toltec cultures merged together and became basically as one.
Yet this is not the only reason for the disappearance of the Mayans from their cities as some of them were simply abandoned for different reasons. Archeologists and historians have made several conjectures has to why this happened but the strongest focus point was what occurred to the Mayans of the southern Mexican lowlands. After centuries of being farmed, the soil simply became depleted of nourishment by constant use and could no longer support the Mayans and their economy. The people packed up and abandoned their cities to journey north to where the land was still rich and could support their crops and trade. With time, the rainforests engulfed the cities and they became lost ruins that were never inhabited again. This wrought a drastic change within the Mayan culture.
By the time the Spanish arrived and began their long and barbarous conquest of the indigenous people of Central and South America, the Mayans as a separate race had all but disappeared. Their language survived as did much of their traditional culture so when the Spanish invaded the Yucatan in 1697, they overwhelmed four tribes that spoke Mayan; the Itzas, Kowojs, Kejaches, and the Mopan.
Though the Spanish were outnumbered, their advanced weapons and warfare tactics were too much for the native tribes. They had little ability to fight the guns and cannons of the Spanish with only weapons of blade and bow. They put up an admirable fight but could not counteract their attackers. Their independent history ended and they became the slaves and possessions of their new Spanish masters.
In present day, the Mayan people still remain within their native ground. Though through intermixture with people of different lineages, they do not totally resemble their ancestors but they have retained much of their culture and customs. Their remarkable contributions to science and the imaginative mythology of their original spirituality have been acknowledged world wise. The Mayan pyramids and the wonder of their ancient cities has proven an endless source of fascination for people around the globe and a great economic boon for Mexico in the tourist trade.
The wonderful and advanced ancient Mayan civilization has disappeared into the annuals of history as have so many other ancient cultures but we have benefited from their legacies as a whole.
- The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom, Book by Grant D. Jones; Stanford University, 1998
- The Mayan Ruins: Magazine Article by Habeeb Salloum; Contemporary Review, Vol. 268, 1996
- Artic National Wildlife Reserve and the Economy: Magazine Article by Douglas B. Reynolds; World and I, Vol. 16, December, 2001