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The Myans, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1440

Essay

The Mayans

The disappearance of the Mayan civilization is one of the most intriguing archaeological mysteries in history. The Mayan population was comprised of tens of millions of people prior to their disappearance, and there have been many myths and stories that relate to this mystery that seek to tell the truth behind why the Maya disappeared.

According to Sharer (2012), the mystery of the beginnings of the Mayan civilization disappearance dates back to around 2,500 years ago, and this has been something many theorists have tried to explain. Many theories about why they disappeared have developed over time; one of which was civil war and unrest. However, it is important to understand who the Maya were before understanding any of the theories of why such a prominent and magnificent civilization suddenly disappeared during the 9th century. Present day Mayans are descendants from the ancient Mayan civilization from eastern Mesoamerica made up of Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador, and they still stay true to Mayan culture and traditions by keeping the Maya language alive, as well as the style of dress, the diet and religion.

The ancient Mayans were an advanced civilization and experts in mathematics, astronomy, engineering, agriculture, architecture, masonry and utilizing vast resources from the forests, rivers and seashores of the land. They developed communities, cities and capitals with elaborate kingdoms with palaces, monuments, temples, plazas, and reservoirs (Sharer, 2012).

The Mayan civilization era was comprised of three periods, namely: (1) Pre-classic, (2) Classic, and (3) Post-classic periods. The Pre-classic period dates back from 2,000 B.C.E. until 250 C.E., and around 1,000 B.C.E. was a time of the erecting of the first kingdoms built by the Mayans on the western coast of Guatemala.

The Classic period was 250 to 900 C.E. and is the time when the Mayan civilization was thriving and flourishing with magnificent artwork, engineering, architecture and writing. It was also a time of rapid population growth (Sharer, 2012). During this period, stylized statues of Mayan leaders were carved with dates. It is, however, interesting to note that archaeological finds show the earliest statue dated 292 A.D. and 909 A.D. is the date on the latest statue. This is around the time of the Mayan disappearance.

The Post-classic period began around 900 C.E. and was at the height of a revived Mayan civilization (Sharer, 2012). During this period, which was 800 to 900 A.D., the major Mayan city-states in the south were falling into decline and abandoned. However, much of the northern cities were still prospering during this time, even though there was still much war going on. The Mayans continued trading and surviving (Minster, 2004), until they were conquered by the Spanish between 1524 and 1697 C.E., which is one of many theories about how the Maya disappeared (Sharer, 2012).

Theory #1 – Spanish Conquest

One theory of why the Mayans disappeared is because Spanish conquerors came and wiped out the last of them. It is told that the Spanish wanted to take possession of the Mayan land because of its vast natural resources of forests, rivers, and all of the benefits that come with such abundant land. In addition, the theory states that the Maya were ravaged from diseases brought to them by the Spaniards, as well as from the destruction of attack and war imposed on them from the Spaniards. The theory is basically that the Mayan civilization was destroyed by over 500 years of oppression and conquest from the Spaniards (Sharer, 2012).

The source of this theory was written in an article by Robert Sharer in a journal publication called Expedition. Mr. Sharer is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also Curator Emeritus at Penn Museum. He is also an author of the book, The Ancient Maya.

 

Theory #2 – Drought

Another popular theory about why the Mayans fell and disappeared is the result of a series of massive droughts in Central America around 810, 860 and 910 A.D. This was discovered from climate measurements that detected ancient variations in climate. This theory was first articulated by author, Richardson Gill. The method of obtaining this information was done by measuring the chemical signature of sediment left in the river basin from run-off from Venezuelan rivers. This revealed the level of rain fall for a given year and core-sample data was used to implicate the Mayan droughts (Ness, 2003).

The source of this theory was written in an article by John Ness, a reporter at Newsweek International, who writes about the archeological study by archaeologist, Richardson Gill, author of The Great May Droughts: Water, Life, and Death. Mr. Gill has a Ph.D. in archaelogy from the University of Texas at Austin.

Theory #3 – Civil War and Unrest

According to Minster (2004), there was a time when theorists, scientists and archaeologists thought the Maya were a peaceful people; however, historical revelations discovered from Mayan stone carvings indicate they were into civil war and fought among themselves most often. Major Mayan city-states often went to war against each other. This may have caused the civilization to collapse, due to the economic and political disaster this would cause, as well as collateral damage to Mayan cities and communities. This theory basically states that the Mayan people fought themselves into obscurity and distinction.

The source of this theory comes from an article, “What Happened to the Ancient Maya?” written by Christopher Minster, a Latin American Literature and History specialist with a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in Spanish from Penn State University. He served in the U.S Peace Corps in Guatemala for two years and he is currently a professor of literature at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

Which Theory is More Compelling?

These are three theories that have been studied about what happened to the Mayan civilization in the 9th century. However, based on these three theories – Spanish conquest, a series of droughts, and civil war, I am choosing the series of droughts as the most compelling theory between the three for why the Mayans fell.

First of all, the Spanish conquest was indeed something that actually happened; however, this came at the end of the Post-classic period of the Mayan civilization (Sharer, 2012). At this time, the Mayan civilization was already declining in many ways, so it appears that the Spaniards came and just made things worse with their diseases and hostile taking over of the Mayan communities and cities. However, I feel like this was not the most compelling reason for the fall of the Mayan empire. Additionally, the civil wars among the Mayan cities was mainly for prestige and control of land and resources (Sharer, 2012). So I do not believe that these internal wars were violent enough to cause the fall of the empire for the Mayans.

As explained by Ness (2003), a serious of severe droughts within 50 years of each other could have a significant negative effect on a population of people. Fifty years is just enough time to take out a couple of generations of people, and this happened three times within 150 years or so. If the Mayan civilization was already weakened from other factors, then these droughts certainly could have taken them all the way out.

In addition, Coulter (2009) states major drought times occuring around the time of the Mayan civilization disappearance was also a time when they had cut most of their trees down for agricultural, heat and building material purposes. According to Coulter (2009), this type of deforestation caused a rise in climate temperatures between 1 and 5 degrees and up to a 30 percent decrease in the amount of rain that could fall. This over-farming stripped huge swatches of land of its forests, and this had an effect on the crops and also made for a dangerous combination with low rainfall and drought and warming. Massive deforestation helped to bring on the droughts.

The droughts hindered food growth and water storage, so the Maya basically may have starved and died of dehydration and thirst. They had rain reservoirs but those would have been dried up with insufficient rainfall. The Mayans, it seems, set off a deadly cycle of deforestation, drought, and warming. So it seems that the series of droughts, which were caused in part by massive deforestation, is the most compelling theory, in my opinion, about what happened to the Mayan civilzation (Coulter, 2009).

References

Coulter, D. (2009, October 6). The Fall of the Maya: ‘They Did it to Themselves’. Retrieved from NASA Science News: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/06oct_maya/

Minster, C. (2004). Timeline of the Ancient Maya. Retrieved from Latin American History: http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/Maya/p/Timeline-Of-The-Ancient-Maya.htm; http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/Maya/p/Timeline-Of-The-Ancient-Maya.htm

Ness, J. (2003, March). Fall of the Mayans. Newsweek (Atlantic Edition), 141(12), 42.

Sharer, R. (2012, Spring). Who Were the Maya? Expedition, 54(1), 12-16.

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