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The Mayas Essay, Research Paper
The Mayas, a generally very peaceful tribe, started their civilization around
300 AD. These people were in the region of the Middle America. When they started living here, most of the land was thick forests and mountains. They lived in what is now Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and part of Mexico in central America.
The first city the Mayas built was Uaxactun in Northern Guatemala. This city was built in 328 AD. Soon thereafter, their main city and worshipping place was built: Tikal. Tikal was located at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula. There were over 3000 structures and 6 pyramids reaching as high as 190 feet. There were also seven temple places and many man-made reservoirs.
Still another city was made: Copan. Copan was a very large city also. In this city, many people studied and worked. Also people learning to become part of the government and people learning to become scholars came here.
Outside of the cities was where most of the common people lived. They only went into the cities to pray, go to ceremonies, and to study. The houses the Mayas lived in consisted of one room made out of stucco with one door, a thatched roof, and no windows. All of the cooking was done outside. To make their houses more colorful, they painted murals on every wall. Each family had a plot of land by their house to grow fruits and vegetables.
All of the Maya people farmed and did other jobs. The main crop was corn which was popped, eaten regular, or dried and ground into flour. In addition to corn the Mayas grew cacao, squash, beans, and cotton. Each family grew some or all of these crops and kept bees for honey and turkeys and ducks for soups and for other things.
The Maya society was set up into five groups: the ruling class(very noble people), scribes(the people who knew how to read and write), the priests, craftsmen, and finally the common people. Most of the people were craftsmen, farmers, hunters, fishermen, soldiers, priests, or worked for the government. The women usually cooked, cleaned, weaved baskets, or were part of the government.
Since there was no king that ruled all of the Maya people, people chose local leaders to form the ruling class. The leaders had many tasks and were very busy. So every Maya person was expected to share their food with the leaders. The regular men and women wore plain white clothing, but the noblemen wore embroidered clothing that was full of color and the noblemen also wore jewelry. Craftsmen were very important to the priests and leaders because they built their houses, furniture, made their clothing, and even made some of the things used in ceremonies.
Men married at around age twenty and their wives were picked by their parents. The wedding was blessed by a priest, and after the wedding, they had a large ceremony and feast. The husband moved into the father-in-law s house and worked there for seven years. After that the husband and his wife could move into their own house.
Mayan mothers thought that crossed eyes were very beautiful, and any baby with naturally crossed eyes was considered to be blessed by the spirits. If the baby s eyes weren t crossed, the mother would strap a string of beads between the baby s eyes so the baby would stare at it. In addition to the crossed eyes, the mother didn t allow any hair to grow on their faces, so she would burn it off using a hot rag. The men also had a custom, and that was to grow long hair and to burn the top part of their hair to form a small bald spot. If you didn t do this you were thought of as a criminal.
To the Mayas, religion was the most important thing they did. Both men and women participated in religious ceremonies, but only men were allowed to dance. The people mostly played three instruments which were flutes, whistles, and an instrument made out of a hollow log and animal skins. Men and women filled their teeth and put plates for the very special ceremonies such as the Mol. The Mol was the month where the hundreds of sprits they worshipped were honored. This was the most important holiday.
The people believed that the world was created by many spirits, and man was created from mud. To thank these spirits, they would sacrifice birds and other small animals. When a person died, a priest was sent out to get rid of the evil sprits and purify the house.
There were four different categories of the priests. The high priest, the working priests, the Nacon, and the Chacs. The high priest was called Ahau Kan Mai. His job was to lead the very holy ceremonies and to educate the children of the nobility. The working priests job was to conduct the daily services, take care of the sick, and to teach. The Nacon s job was to make the sacrifices. The Chacs assisted the Nacon.
The Mayas had three major accomplishments. The first one was that they had a very accurate calendar of 365 days. This calendar had 18 months with 20 days each and the five days left over were very unlucky. The second accomplishment was that they had a complex number system. This system even had zero. The final important accomplishment was that they had a system of hieroglyphics that had over 800 carved symbols.
By 889, the Maya cities were abandoned because of war, famine, and changes in climate. Today, there are over 20 forms of Maya languages in central America spoken today. The Maya people still grow the same crops and do the same dances. Some people now have converted to Christianity, but some still believe in their original religion.
Baquedano, Elizabeth. Aztec, Inca, & Maya. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
McKissack, Patricia C. The Maya. Chicago: Children s Press, 1985.
Reader s Digest Association, Inc. America s Fascinating Indian Heritage. Pleasantville: Reader s Digest Association, 1978.
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