Origin of the Maya Civilization

Is it possible that we have it completely wrong when it comes to the ancient Maya civilization? According to a study, the Maya culture began differently than previously thought.

Everything that has a beginning, has an end, and so many ancient cultures have ended in dramatic ways, but we focus too little on their origins and how they came into existence.

The Maya and their history is one of the most talked about subjects in Archaeology, and the classic period of the lowland Maya is something many researchers are quite familiar with; when many Maya cities reached their highest state of development, but there is little known about the early pre-classic era (before 1000 B.C.), and archaeologists are struggling to comprehend the Maya culture in that period of time. During the Classical Period, the Maya population numbered in the millions.

Some of the most important sites in the southern Maya lowlands include Nakbe, El Mirador, Cival, and San Bartolo. 

The most widely accepted theory, as of 2010, is that the first Maya settlements were established around 1800 BCE in the Soconusco region of the Pacific Coast; corresponding to the Early Preclassic period.

Ancient Ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. Image Credit: Wikipedia
Ancient Ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. Image Credit: Wikipedia

There are two theories regarding the origin of the Maya that have been developed in the archaeological community: Either the Maya came into existence and developed independently, or they developed directly from an older “mother culture” known as the Olmec culture.

Takeshi Inomata, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona believes both of the above theories are incorrect. Professor Inomata learned a lot about the Maya while excavating at the archaeological site of Ceibal in Guatemala unearthing evidence of a far more complex origin story.

What Professor Inomata found in Guatemala is that Ceibal actually predates the growth of La Venta as a major center by as much as 200 years, thus providing the necessary evidence to state that La Venta could not have been the prevailing influence over early Mayan development. “This does not mean that the Maya developed independently,” Inomata says.

According to Professor Inomata, it was a two-way street where La Venta and Ceibal appeared to have developed together and what researchers believe was a great cultural shift in the region.

“We’re saying that the scenario of early Maya culture is really more complex than we thought,” said UA anthropology graduate student Victor Castillo, who co-authored the paper with Inomata and Triadan.

“We have this idea of the origin of Maya civilization as an indigenous development, and we have this other idea that it was an external influence that triggered the social complexity of Maya civilization. We’re now thinking it’s not actually black and white,” Castillo said.

Important advancements in agriculture were one of the main influences towards the development of the Maya civilization when Corn, the principal crop of the Maya became more productive and the introduction of the “nixtamal” process helped in great ways, a process in which the maize is soaked in lime and cooked, something that “enormously increased the nutritional value of corn,”

According to Professor Inomata, during this agricultural revolution, nomadic groups that became the Maya began to build urban ritual areas, creating ceremonial centers instead of villages.

Source: Science Daily / Wikipedia

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