The Great Mayan Empire
By Ellis, Matt, and Carmen
The Well of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza
Yum Kaax (Corn God)
Yum Kaax (“Lord of the field” in English) is the Mayan corn god. He is also the god of all agriculture, he was always pictured as a young man with a plant with him or on his head. He protects the forests and is the guardian of the plants. His patron day is the day Kan (“the day of ripe corn”). He is associated with different parts of the life cycle of corn, as the Foliated Maize God he is connected with the small shoots of corn. As the Tonsured Maize God he is associated with both fertile and mature corn. The Mayans worshiped Yum Kaax for a good harvest and planting days.
The Mayan Empire was widely known for its success in architecture and construction. The golden age of the Mayan Empire included 40 cities, including Tikal, Copán, and Uaxactún. They built many of their temples and palaces in a stepped pyramid shape and decorated them with elaborate artwork and inscriptions. These structures earned the Maya the reputation as the greatest artists of Mesoamerica. In a typical city, the ceremonial center formed the heart of the city. Tall pyramids topped with temples stood in large open plazas, and public buildings, palaces, and ball courts surrounded the plaza. All of these buildings were ritually and politically significant to Mayan culture. The rulers and priests lived in the city’s center, the upper- and middle-class citizens built their homes just on the outside of the center, and the peasants lived in huts on the edge. The Mayans used carved stone for the main buildings in on the city, and they carved the stone with simple stone tools. The Mayans moved stones around with manpower. They didn’t use animals or wheeled vehicles. Additionally, they used a cement made of limestone that provided mortar to hold the stones in place. They spread limestone cement over stones to give the buildings smooth surfaces and then painted the buildings with bright colors. Mayan architecture included advanced cultural traits such as pyramid building, city construction, and the inscribing of stone monuments. Over swampy and wet areas where traveling was difficult, the Mayans built causeways, or raised roads. The causeways were usually 2-4 feet off the ground to provide efficient traveling routes throughout cities.
The Mayans created a much more advanced counting system than all other civilizations at the time. The Mayan and other Mesoamerican cultures used a vigesimal number system probably originally developed from counting on fingers and toes. The numbers were represented by three different symbols an open shell for zero, a dot for one, and a bar for five. Addition and subtraction were then made easy. After the number 19, larger numbers were written in a format using powers of 20: 1, 20, 400, 8000, 160000, etc. They were the first people to use the idea of a zero- an important invention. The number zero was represented with a shell, a dot represented the number one, and a bar equaled five. The Mayans used a base of 20 the same way we use a base of 10 today- wrote their numbers from top to bottom instead of left to right.
Government and Religious Practices
Early Mayas were hunter-gatherers. They hunted animals and fish and picked fruits, nuts, and vegetables. When they began to farm, they used the slash and burn method of farming. Trees were cut down with stone axes and then let dry in the sun. They would then burn the trees to clear land, and the leftover ashes would fertilize the soil. However, this method wore the soil out quickly, and the fields had to fallow for 2 to 3 years before they could be planted on again. To plant seeds, they used the planting stick method. Farmers would use a stick to poke a hole in the ground to place 3 to 4 seeds in. The Mayans grew a variety of crops such as maize, beans, peppers, squashes, tomatoes, avocados, and pumpkins, and in some areas cacao. Cacao was very important to their civilization. It was basically their monetary system, or currency. They also grew hemp for rope and cotton to make cloth. Mayas built reservoirs, terraces, and created irrigation systems. In swampy areas, they dug soil into mounds and planted on the mounds. They then dug out canals for irrigation. They had many special religious celebrations were related to farming. The god of rain, Chac, was the focus of many of these ceremonies. Did you know that 90% of the population were involved in farming? Additionally, the Mayans hunted deer, turkeys, peccary, ducks, quails, curassow, guan, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, the tapir, armadillo, and dogs; and used certain trees for wood, such as the sapodilla and breadnut.
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