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Hundreds even thousands of years ago,
before Europeans came to
explore and conquer,
the Maya ruled in Mesoamerica.
One of the most powerful civilizations ever to exist
in what is now Central America,
the Maya created huge stone temples and pyramids,
and a complex system of
heiroglyphics that puzzled academics for centuries.
Despite these achievements,
the Maya never unified and formed
an empire under a single leader:
instead, many small city-states,
each ruled by its own kings, shared a common culture
to make up the Maya civilization.
The Maya people worshiped nature gods –
gods of the sun, the moon, rain, and corn.
太阳神 月神 雨神和玉米神
According to the Popol Vuh,
a book that contains the legends of the Maya,
the gods began by creating the earth and the sky.
Next they made the animals, the birds and the flying creatures.
There was just one problem:
the animals could not speak to worship the gods.
So the gods decided to make humans.
The first humans were made out of mud,
but they crumbled back into dirt.
The gods tried a second time, carving humans out of wood.
The wooden people were strong,
but they did not worship the gods, and so the gods destroyed
them with a flood.
Finally the gods tried a third time,
and made humans out of white and yellow corn.
The precious corn was the material
that finally produced real humans who would worship the gods.
The Maya civilization developed in the thick jungles
of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula,
spreading into what is now Guatemala, Belize,
western Honduras, and El Salvador.
Four thousand years ago, around 2000 BC,
the Maya began to farm,
cultivating corn, beans, squash, and chili peppers.
种植玉米 大豆 南瓜和辣椒
They would have hunted deer, turkeys,
rabbits, monkeys and iguana.
The Maya were also one of the first people
learn to use cocoa beans.
The cocoa beans were made into a paste and mixed
with water, cornmeal, honey, and chile peppers
再和水 玉米粉 蜂蜜和辣椒酱搅拌
to make a spicy, frothy drink
for the Maya kings and priests.
Cocoa beans were so valuable
that they were often used as a form of money.
Over time, these farms developed into permanent settlements
– towns, and villages.
By 750 BC
these towns developed into bigger, more sophisticated cities.
Some of their cities may have been home to more than 100,000 people.
Most people lived in huts made out of poles and vines
and plastered with mud,
but the ruling class lived in huge stone palaces.
Maya cities were the center of their culture.
As their cities grew,
the Maya built elaborate stepped stone pyramids,
paved roads and raised causeways,
wide plazas with tall stone monuments
and altars for religious sacrifices.
Another common feature of Maya cities were
large stone courts that could be used to play a sport
known simply as’the ballgame.’
The Maya ballgame was central to their culture
and their cities,
and was a symbol of their wealth and power.
The stone courts had high sides
where people could sit and watch
as two teams competed for control of
a heavy ball made of rubber.
Players were not allowed to move the ball
with their hands or feet, instead hitting it
with their hips, elbows and knees to keep it in the air.
The players tried to get the ball through a small stone hoop,
high up on a wall of the court.
Getting the ball through the hoop ended the game,
but it was so difficult to do
that the games could go on for weeks.
The ballgame was more than just a sport.
It symbolized a battle between the Maya gods in the heavens,
and the rulers of Xibalba, the underworld.
The winning team would represent the Hero Twins of Maya legend,
and the losers were sometimes sacrificed to the gods.
Sacrifice was important in Maya culture.
An offering of blood was seen as food or nourishment for the gods.
Sometimes the Maya would cut themselves and offer their blood to the gods.
Other times they would sacrifice animals.
Human sacrifice was usually limited to important events,
like the dedication of a new temple
or a new king, or times of trouble,
新王继位或是像饥荒 干旱 战争
like famine, drought, or war.
War was frequent in the lands of the Maya.
They were not unified under a single ruler.
Instead, each city and its surrounding land was ruled
by its own king, or’holy lord,’
who claimed to be related to the gods
and communicate with them for their people.
These small kings fought each other for resources,
for territory, and for power.
It was common for warriors to make small raids
into their neighbor’s territory, taking captives
and looting their riches.
Prisoners were sometimes tortured and forced to play the ballgame,
after which they would be sacrificed.
Sometimes larger battles resulted in a strong city
conquering or destroying a weaker one.
The Maya were proud of their battles.
Warrior kings had their victories recorded on stone monuments,
which endure to this day.
Between the frequent warring and human sacrifice,
you might think that the Maya were a violent and warlike people,
but they were also scholars and astronomers,
who made many advances in mathematics, writing, and art.
The Maya developed a complete system of numbers
based on the number 20, nearly 1,000 years
before the development of the Arabic number system that we use today.
They also discovered the concept of zero,
one of only a few cultures in history to invent it independently.
They used their number system to create one
of the most accurate calendar systems ever made,
one which would not be rivaled for a thousand years.
They made great advancements in astronomy,
observing the skies as closely as possible
without a telescope.
With these, they were able to track the motions
of the sun, the moon and the planets very accurately,
and correctly predict their motions even thousands of years in the future.
Around 300 BC, the Maya began to write.
It was the only true writing system
ever to be developed in the Americas.
Instead of 26 letters, like the English alphabet,
the Maya used more than 800 different hieroglyphs.
Some of the heiroglyphs represented words,
while others represented syllables that could
be combined to spell out words and write sentences.
The Maya made paper books from the inner bark
of trees that folded up like an accordion.
A book of this kind is called a codex.
In the 16th century,
all but a handful of the Maya codices were burned
by Spanish priests and conquistadors.
Fortunately, the Maya left written records many other places,
carved in stone in temples, sculptures,
and on monuments,
which lets us piece together some of their history.
The Maya have been called by some the greatest artists in Mesoamerica.
Although they had no metal tools,
they were expert carvers, creating elaborate objects
out of bone, flint, and jade.
They carved the stone of their buildings –
the walls, the doorways, and the stairs.
They carved their sacrificial altars and the markers of the ball courts.
Most of all, they carved monuments to their kings
and their warriors, recording victories
and important events for their history.
The Maya were also skilled in ceramics,
making pottery of many different shapes and sizes.
Cups, bowls, plates and vases
杯子 碗 盘子和花瓶上
were often elaborately decorated with paintings or carvings,
sometimes even with heiroglyphic writing.
The Maya also made detailed and realistic figurines
in the shape of people and animals.
Although few examples survived
the tropical climate of the Maya homeland,
they also made beautiful paintings and murals.
Some of the brightest and most vivid murals remaining
used a special color called Maya blue.
This bright blue color was very strong,
and did not fade as cities were overtaken by jungle.
After the fall of Maya civilization,
the secret to making this color was lost,
puzzling chemists and artists alike for hundreds of years.
At the height of their culture,
Maya population may have topped 5 million people,
but around 900 AD, their civilization began to decline.
It did not fall all at once –
because it was never an empire with a centralized government,
the fall was slow and gradual.
One by one, cities fell into chaos
and were abandoned to be reclaimed by the jungle,
but no one is really sure why.
Perhaps the population grew too large
for the land to produce enough food for everyone to eat.
Maybe constant wars between city-states destroyed
trade routes and alliances.
Even a long drought could have caused people to abandon their cities.
By the time the Spanish arrived in the 1500s,
most Maya were living in small farming villages,
their ancient stone cities forgotten
and lost beneath a layer of living jungle.
A few cities were still inhabited,
but they were not used ceremonially the way they had
been centuries earlier.
The Maya were one of the most enduring and longest-lasting civilizations
in the history of the world.
Many people have wondered, where did they go?
The truth is, the Maya are not gone.
Millions of Maya still live in their ancestral homeland in the Yucatan,
speaking Mayan languages
and practicing the traditions of their people.
As for the ancient Maya, we are still learning about them.
Many Maya structures are hidden in the jungles of the Yucatan,
overgrown and just waiting
for explorers and archaeologists to find them.
Pyramids and cities, as well as the artifacts and treasures
inside them are constantly being discovered.
As they are, we add more pieces to the puzzle
and improve our understanding of the Maya,
the ancient builders of Mesoamerica.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the Maya today.
Goodbye till next time!
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