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Publisher's Summary

Many ancient civilizations have influenced and inspired people in the 21st century, and the Greeks and Romans continue to fascinate the West today, but of all the world’s civilizations, none have intrigued people more than the Mayans, whose culture, astronomy, language, and mysterious disappearance all continue to captivate people. In the past decade especially, there has been a renewed focus on the Mayans, whose advanced calendar led many to speculate the world would end on the same date the Mayan calendar ended in 2012. The focus on the “doomsday” scenario, however, overshadowed the Mayans’ true contributions to various aspects of culture in the region. While many incorrectly presume that the Maya were predicting the world to end on that date, it is not a coincidence that their calendar ended on the winter solstice. The Maya developed a sophisticated method of calculating and creating a calendar that is astonishing even by today’s standards, and their advancements in applied mathematics not only has intrigued archaeologists but has been incorporated into the beliefs of New Agers and modern apocalyptic doomsayers.

While it has historically been the Aztecs who were viewed as a militaristic civilization, there is considerable debate among scholars on the question of territorial aggression among the Maya. Since many of the Maya cities lack fortifications that are like those that Western archaeologists might have expected, it was once assumed that the Maya created for themselves an ideal, pacifistic society. However, others have theorized the Maya were particularly ferocious in warfare, taking captives for ritual sacrifice and appropriating territories through force. Still others have explained the demise of certain Maya cities by arguing that they were devastated by internecine warfare that doomed both sides of the fighting.

As with many aspects of Maya society, the presence or absence of bellicose behavior is an enigma. There have been some findings of parapets and ramparts, in particular at Tikal and Becán, clear proof that the Mayans saw the need for defensive fortifications for those cities. At the same time, the fact that such ramparts were not a consistent part of Maya city construction is evidence that there was considerable variation in aggression, expansion and cooperation from one city to another.

Today, it is a commonly held belief among scholars that warfare between Maya cities erupted when there was a shortage of food, either because of drought or insufficient production to support an expanding population. Although there is no direct evidence, it is supposed that one city would expand into the territory of another, sparking a competition for land.

That said, most of the theories on Maya warfare are based on two fairly inadequate assumptions. One is that all Mayan city populations were identical over the entire history of the civilization, and the other is that the Maya behaved like Europeans. Instead, some scholars now believe that some Maya cities engaged in ferocious warfare from time to time, while others were involved in only occasional skirmishes with their neighbors. In piecing together the evidence of Mayan culture, it is necessary to remember that the civilization of interest to archaeologists existed between 900 BCE and 1200 CE, and that their cities lay between the Pacific coast of Guatemala and the northern reaches of the Yucatan peninsula. Thus, it is not safe to assume that Mayan culture was monolithic.

©2021 Charles River Editors (P)2021 Charles River Editors

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