The Way of the Mayans
Much is known about the Mayans, and much is not known. What we do know is that the Mayan civilization began more than 4,000 years ago, in areas we now call southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. After 2,000 BC, they became advanced enough to build cities, and small city-states began to dominate the geopolitical landscape.
The Mayans were pretty smart. They became the only native Americans to develop a full writing system before the arrival of Columbus. They also got good at math, and were the first in the world to use the number zero. The Mayan calendar was complex and accurate. And their architecture lives on today in famous ruins at archaeological digs such as Chichen Itza, Yaxchilan, Lamanai, and Tulum.
These fuckers built great stone temples that are misleadingly called “pyramids”, and used them to sacrifice human beings. Sacrifices involved decapitation, heart excision, being shot with arrows, and other brutal methods for appeasing the gods and conveniently ridding rulers of potential rivals.
The Mayans attained the height of their glory in the 9th Century AD. And that’s when everything somehow fell all to hell. A widespread political collapse occurred at this time, with internecine warfare, and refugees spilling out of cities. Nobody knows exactly why this happened but there are many theories.
One theory is ecocide. At that time, the population was up to ten times the current modern-day population, in areas where the soil was poor and very difficult to cultivate. Mayan agricultural science was highly advanced. To this day, nobody knows how the Mayans figured out how to support such a large populace with such infertile soil. But somehow they managed. At least for a while.
The ecocide school of thought holds that in spite of their agricultural genius, they overused their natural resources, and mother nature finally gave out under the strain. This led to widespread famine and political destabilization.
Other theories include extended droughts, epidemic diseases, and foreign invasion. But none of these theories have been proven, and the rapid decline of Mayan civilization in the 9th century AD remains one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries.
But the Mayan civilization rebounded, in a sense. Archaeological evidence indicates that after the 9th century AD, many Mayans emigrated from the lowlands of Central America to areas of southern Mexico. They expanded and built more city-states, such as Chichen Itza and Tulum. But although their great civilization perdured, they never returned to their prior peak of glory.
The arrival of the Spanish did them in for good. Their city-states were conquered one-by-one, mainly through the weapon of smallpox. The last Mayan city-state taken by force by the conquistadors was Nojpeten, in present-day Flores, Guatemala, in the year 1697. This occurred 800 years after the initial collapse that began the Mayan decline. This “officially” ended Mayan civilization, though some argue that it continues in a different form, to this day.
A new theory is starting to emerge concerning that initial collapse. Archaeologist Rob Muller discovered thousands of small rocks containing Mayan hieroglyphics, which he calls “bleats”. These bleats apparently contain short messages inscribed by a Mayan king named Trumpamuckus, who appears to have tossed them out to the populace at random.
Muller continues to study the writing on the bleats, and has yet to issue a final report of his conclusions. But for now he claims that King Trumpamuckus rose to power around the year 816 AD. He also says that this king was highly controversial, and was accused by other Mayan leaders as having attained power with the help of the rival Aztec civilization, to the north.
According to Muller, Trumpamuckus often denied some sort of alliance with the Aztecs, in his bleats. He also often proclaimed himself as the greatest king to have ever ruled anywhere on earth. And there were many stony missives that belittled warnings from Mayan scientists about impending ecological disaster.
Muller is trying to make sense of it all. It will be interesting to read his final report, and many are waiting with bated breath for the results. Perhaps it will contain lessons we can all learn.
And that would be good. So that we don’t go the way of the Mayans.