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Latin America Team Dispatch


Heading Back in Time
January 27, 1999


As we approached the very bottom of Mexico, we decided to regroup in Palenque, a city considered by many to be the most beautiful of all Mayan sites located in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas. Palenque was first occupied 1,500 years ago but was only fully developed by the Mayan King Pakal in the 7th century. The city was a center for great architecture whose influence spread as far as Tikal, one of the next sites we'll be visiting when we're in Guatemala. El Palacio (the Palace) and El Templo de los Inscriptiones (the Temple of the Inscriptions), where the tomb of King Pakal rests, are great examples of Mayan architecture just near Palenque. Although the reasons for Palenque's decline are uncertain, it was abandoned after the 10th century and its ruins were covered by vegetation until their discovery at the end of the 18th century.

We will be exploring the Maya civilization over the next few weeks as we travel into Guatemala and spend six weeks there. The Maya existed as a strong and vibrant empire for hundreds of years before the Aztecs, but their power declined and the Aztecs became very powerful when the Maya ceased to exist as an empire.

About five hundred years before the rise of Palenque, the Classic Maya civilization began to flourish in the Chiapas and Yucatán regions of Mexico, all of Guatemala, and parts of Belize and Honduras. The Mayan culture was quite advanced intellectually for its time. Their writing system was very complex and utilized 300-500 symbols. The calendar they used recorded precise earthly and heavenly events and they were able to predict eclipses of the sun and the movements of the moon and Venus. Mayan art was used to tell stories of historical and mythological events and works were often created to accompany the dead on their way to the next world. The Maya used a complex astrological system, worshipped gods of fire, rain, vegetation, and death among others, and believed in predestination. They also believed that the earth was the back of a giant reptile that was floating on a pond.

The Classic Maya civilization stretched from about 250 AD to 900 AD. Near the end of this era, the Maya developed the city of Chichén Itzá in the Yucatan Peninsula where Klaus and Jamila will be reporting from in the next update. Shortly thereafter, Chichén Itzá was invaded by the Toltecs, a group led down from central Mexico by a king named Quetzalcóatl. The combination of the Maya and Toltec cultures created the legend of the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcóatl. The legend of Quetzalcóatl not only links the regions of central Mexico to the Yucatán, but is a legend extending hundreds of years from the time of the Maya until the final days of the Aztec Empire.

Check out: Mexico City — Then and Now for more information about the Aztec Empire. Stay tuned for a lot more about the Maya

 

Klaus - Climbing in the City of the Gods
Jamila - Mayan Mummies were Calling Me
Kavitha - Kids at Work
Abeja - From Riches to Rags
Kavitha - Pro-Zapatista Grafitti and More!
Shawn - Consequences of Stripping the Land

 
 
 
 
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