Mayans: A Vanished Civilization
The Mayan civilization, one of the most technologically advanced and dominant civilizations in the New World from 250CE to 900 CE, had abandoned their cities around 900 AD, due to the complex effects of hunger, famine, sickness and overpopulation, among others. Their advances in agriculture, science and technology were never enough to halt the exodus from the big cities such as Copan to smaller city-like complexes founded by the remaining Mayan nobles, as the agricultural lands in the big cities ceased to be fertile enough to feed the entire Mayan population, notwithstanding the dire effects of conquests by competing civilizations and Spanish conquistadores. As such, not only did Copan collapse as a center of Mayan civilization, but including other Mayan cities such as Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Caracol, Altun Ha, Tlum, Tikal.
The inevitable collapse of the Mayan civilization did not only entail the exodus of its people but the corresponding loss of its language, religion, economy and culture. Prior to its destruction, the Mayans developed a language system similar to the Egyptians in which they wrote using pictures and symbols to represent words and ideas. These writings, called glyphs, were found on walls and books which contained information about Mayan gods and its people.
On one hand, as the Mayans were an agricultural people that highly depended on their fertile lands, one of their gods was Chac, the rain god. To gods like Chac, the Mayans made different kinds of sacrifices to seek their blessings, which included food offerings, bloodlettings and even human sacrifices. It must be emphasized though that the Mayans did not used its own people in the human sacrifices but captives from wars.
Unfortunately, the Mayan gods did not come to their aid when their entire civilization was destroyed, to the extent that even their prized advances in agriculture failed them. It can even be surmised that at the time of the Mayan collapse, there were not enough maize, beans, squash, avocado pear, avocado, sweet potato, guava, chili peppers, cocoa beans, vanilla beans, papaya, tomatoes, dogs, turkeys and ducks for every Mayan household regardless of their social status. Aside from food production, other aspects of its agricultural economy must have suffered as well, including the production of dye, chewing gum, handicrafts, embroidery, herbal medicines and even the logging of timber for temples and houses.
On the other hand, the Mayan collapse also included the abandonment of a cultural phenomenon that was rooted in the Mayan religion – the Mayan ballgame that was a combination of basketball, volleyball and football. It was a social event participated by the entire community that the players who were able to maneuver the ball through the hoop, which was twenty-seven feet off the ground, were given jewelry and clothing by spectators.
The losses of Mayan culture due to its collapse also included their own indigenous concept of beauty in which babies’ heads were pressed to make their heads longer, nose bridges were purposely broken to add curvature, and body parts, such as tongues, ears, lips and noses were pierced with objects such as jewelry. More so, the colorful indigenous dresses, headdresses and huipiles which were used in day-today activities and even in celebrations and feasts were forgotten.
In all of these, as the Mayans left their cities to settle in smaller complexes, it also brought the end of their historic legacy to the world. Nonetheless, their once great civilization, while forever gone, shall always be part of the historic record that conclusively shows the extent of the Mayan contribution to the development of the world.