Moises Roberto Morales, who lives just outside the ruins of Palenque, has studied the Mayan culture for more than forty years. Before Monica and Abeja left on their river boat trip to Tikal, Jamila, Monica, Abeja and I were lucky enough to meet Moises and learn from him about the ancient Maya and related topics.
Moises began by telling us a few facts about ancient Mayan culture, which first appeared in about 2000 BC. The Maya dominated Central America from 500 BC to 1450 AD. Their civilization was advanced in many ways. For example, the Maya developed a sophisticated calendar that was made up of eighteen 20-day months, plus a five-day period called uayeb added at yearıs end to equal 365 days. The Maya also developed a system of mathematics that used the concept of zero, something that the Romans never figured out! In addition to these developments, the Maya also created hundreds of cities comprised of huge temple complexes. Not only were these temples breathtakingly beautiful, but they were also perfectly aligned to the heavens thanks to the Mayaıs superior knowledge of astronomy.
After reviewing some of these accomplishments, Moises asked us what we thought was the one Mayan achievement that no other great civilization has been able to match. After a long silence and several lame guesses from us, he revealed the answer: unlike the other great cultures of antiquity, the Maya were able to develop their advanced civilization in the midst of a hostile environment (thick plant growth, harsh tropical climate, etc.). What made this feat even more impressive was the fact that they did so without the benefit of metal tools, pack animals, or the wheel (which they used only on childrenıs toys!). Incredibly enough, the Maya equaled or bettered the achievements of other ancient civilizations that had the advantages of far-more advanced technologies and friendlier environments.
Scholars have long been intrigued by the mysteries of ancient Mayan civilization, coming from all over the world to try and solve this fascinating puzzle. Although he appreciates the scholarly interest in Mayan culture, Moises sees several shortcomings in their methods. First and foremost is that until recently, most archeologists and anthropologists have operated in a vacuum of sortsspeculating on Mayan culture within their Western mindset. For this reason, Moises has been working hard to include the indigenous Mayan population in discussions on ancient Mayan civilization, something which has not frequently been done before.
Moises, along with others, was instrumental in deciphering the Mayan hieroglyphs and matching the Mayan calendar to our own. He has been invited to speak and present papers at several prestigious conferences. But dealing with scholars has been a bit frustrating for him. ³Many times scholars behave like the Mafia,² he said. He explained that scholars are often slow to accept new information that might contradict their pet theories. To admit that oneıs theory is wrong often means a drop in prestige and income from books and appearances, so scholars have a vested interest in keeping their minds closed to new theories and approaches. Sometimes, those with opposing ideas will be bought off or attacked until they give in.
Moises himself has written several books, only one of which has been published (in a limited edition for friends and colleagues). Sadly, one of his manuscripts has since been lost to the termites that share his simple jungle dwelling. Although he has had publishers interested in his work, they were more interested in producing a best-seller than in presenting serious scholarship. They asked him either to alter his manuscripts to fit the popular conception of Mayan culture or, alternatively, to advance sensationalistic theories that would make his book sell more copies. (Once, a book about the Maya was kept on the bestseller list for years by its outrageous premise--that the Maya and other ancient cultures were aided by aliens!) Moises, however, was unwilling to embellish the truth or go off on wild speculations. ³I am Mayan², he says, ³and Mayans deal in facts². It is thanks to the hard work and integrity of truth-seekers like Moises that we are only just now beginning to get a full and accurate picture of the great Mayan civilization of yore.
Jamila - On Top of the World in Palenque
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