We bring you today 5 facts about the Maya culture that you will find fascinating! Let us start…
1. Did the Maya really disappeared?
Around 700-800 A.D. the Maya civilization was going strong. Powerful city-states ruled weaker vassals, trade was sharp and cultural achievements such as art, architecture and astronomy peaked. By 900 A.D., however, some of the Maya ceremonial centers like Tikal or Palenque had weaken and collapsed, to soon be abandoned. Many ask, what happened? No one knows for sure. Some theories have developed through the years such as war that lead to disease and scarcity, others suggest that climate change led to droughts that played an important role on this. Perhaps it was a combination of all of these issues. Nevertheless, one of the most important facts you should know about Mayan people is that they have never disappeared. Descendants of the Maya still live in the Yucatan Peninsula amongst others . However, why the cities were abandoned… this is a question that to this day, has no answer.
2. Body changes
The Maya people looked-for some unnatural physical characteristics for their offspring. At a very young age, boards were pressed on babies’ foreheads to create a flattened surface. This process was widespread among the upper class. Another common practice was to cross babies’ eyes, and to accomplish this, an object was suspended in front of a newborn’s eyes, until the infant’s eyes were completely and permanently crossed. Another frequent practice amongst the Maya was to file their teeth to make them spikey and created holes that were filled with jade.
3. The drink of the Gods for mankind.
One of the most popular drinks among Maya people was the “báalché”. The beverage is made from fermented honey mixed with the bark of the “balché” tree (Lonchocarpus violaceus) and it was made in a hollow log or canoe, filled with water, honey and pieces of the bark and tree roots. Unlike other fermentation processes, this mixture begins to ferment almost immediately. In its unprocessed from, it is highly intoxicating and the Mayas would drink it in their rituals with the belief that would grant them, magical powers.
Since the drink had such religious significance to the Maya, the Spanish banned its use since they were attempting to convert them to Christianity. The ban was held for a while until some of the Maya people convinced the Spaniards that balché had very important health benefits and that many of Mayans were dying as a result of the ban. The Spaniards then lifted the ban and balché rituals restarted. The Mayas believed that the gods gave them balché rituals, and as the gods were the first to get drunk, they had the duty to imitate them going through the same experience.
The tree is still around and the beverage is still made, but not for rituals.
4. The Maya bible.
When talking about Ancient Maya culture, experts generally lament how little is known today and how much was lost. Despite attempts to evangelize the native Mayan, they persisted in keeping their ancient cults in secret.
To “remedy” this situation Diego de Landa, a Franciscan frail, went to the city of Mani ruled by the Cocom dynasty in 1558 , to form a religious court that depend on the Inquisition. After the interrogation and torture of the locals, Landa unleashed the imposition of the Christian faith by organizing an “Act of faith” and on July 12, 1562 more than 5,000 Maya idols and sacred objects, 13 altar stones, 197 vessels in addition to the Maya codices, 27 rolls with signs and hieroglyphics were destroyed by fire.
However, one remarkable document survived the imposition of the Christian faith. The “Popol Vuh” the most sacred book of the Maya, that describes the creation of mankind and the story of Hunab kú and Xbalamqué, the heroe twins and their struggles with the Gods of the underworld.
Sometime around 1,700 A. D., Father Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros borrowed that text, and translated it. Although the original has been lost, Father Ximénez’ copy survives and it is considered a treasure trove, a priceless document of the ancient Maya culture.
5. Inventors of Zero
While in Europe there was little to none, knowledge of the philosophical notion of nothingness, the Mayans developed the mathematical zero and used it to denote a placeholder in their elaborate calendar systems. It is the first documented use of zero using positional notation. Highly skilled mathematicians, the Mayans used the zero in their very complex equations. Robert Kaplan, author of “The Art of the Infinite”, from the Mathematics Department at Harvard University describes the Mayan invention of zero as the “most striking example of the zero being devised wholly from scratch.”
In Europe, the number zero found its way through the Moorish conquest of Spain and was further developed by Italian mathematician Fibonacci, who used it to do equations without an abacus, then the most prevalent tool for doing arithmetic. This development was highly popular among merchants, who used Fibonacci’s equations involving zero to balance their books. The word for zero comes from the arab word “sifr,” brought about the word “cipher,” which not only means a numeric character, but also came to mean “code.”
The Yucatan Times Newsroom.
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