The Maya Civilization covered Northern Guatemala and bordering areas of Mexico, Belize and Honduras (Demarest 2004). Demarest (2004) adds that this empire covered the Petén rainforest. “Maya civilization’s monuments displayed unrivalled success in astronomy, mathematics, calendrics and violent political history” (Demarest 2004, p.35).
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For that reason, it is one of the most powerful and widely studied ancient civilizations. Ancient Maya’s success can be traced to a strong trade network, technological advances, strong leadership and valuable resources such as salt (Conrad 2006). On the other hand, its surprise collapse was associated with internal power struggles, climate change and poor socio-economic structures (Demarest 2004). This paper provides an insight into the Maya Civilisation.
Suck (2008) states that the classic ancient Maya existed between 250 and 900 A. D. Therefore, this civilization lasted until the Spanish conquest of Central America. Maya Civilization was characterized by cities and states with palaces, temples and stone monuments (Suck 2008). In addition, these states were ruled by kings or lords who had divine powers. According to Demarest (2004), the ancient Maya had a complex civilization made up of millions of people. Astonishingly, this population was sustained for more than two thousand years.
Demarest (2004) affirms that the Maya Civilization was located on the eastern part of the modern day Mesoamerica. Geographically, this area covers Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and parts of Honduras (Demarest 2004).
For many years, Mexico and most parts of Central America interacted in trade, conquest and other things. These interactions led to the sharing of many features across a large geographical area. The confines of the Maya Civilization are, thus, contentious since they changed with the movement of cultural behaviours and traditions.
The ancient Maya accomplished impressive and compelling political, social and economic success. Extraordinary pre-conquest cities such as Tikal and Caracol attest to this success (Conrad 2006). A well developed and widespread commercial network between Mayan states is cited as one of the reasons for this success.
Consequently, the ancient Maya had unrivalled trade networks. In addition, the civilization had made large strides in technological advances (Conrad 2006). For instance, farmers used raised fields and practiced extensive irrigation. Accordingly, these technologies increased output and strengthened the economy. Conrad (2006) adds that some of the Maya cities were endowed with valuable resources.
For instance, salt, one of the most valuable items at this period, was readily available. For that reason, trade involving salt and other luxuries raised the profile of states and rulers within the Maya Civilization. Furthermore, some of the Maya states had powerful warlords who could subdue and capture neighbouring territories. For instance, Tikal, during the reign of Jaguar Paw, conquered many states (Conrad 2006).
According to most scholars, the collapse of the Maya Civilization is still debatable (Demarest 2004). There has been little agreement on the causes and nature of this collapse. In 800 A.D., the Maya Civilization consisted of hundreds of powerful cities (Minster n.d.). At the same time, Maya culture was thriving. However, in 900 A.D., the civilization was in ruins. This mysterious down fall can be traced to a number of factors.
To start with, most of the Ancient Maya states had a flexible system of succession (Demarest 2004). Therefore, these states allowed a suitable heir to take the mantle of leadership after a ruler died. Nonetheless, this succession system was highly unstable due to frequent battles for the throne. Constant wars led to the disintegration of alliances formed by prominent leaders. Therefore, unstable dynamics of famous cities such as Tikal and Calakmul are some of the factors that contributed to the collapse of the Maya Civilization.
Cross cultural studies show that complex societies are problem-solving institutions (Demarest 2004). For that reason, they offer more social disparity, more inequality and more centralization. Most Maya cities were decentralized with communities and families taking charge of many segments of the economy.
These social weaknesses contributed to the inability of the Classic Maya states to compete with neighbouring states in Mesoamerica. Neighbouring states had adopted a more centralized approach in which elites directly managed trade, rituals and warfare (Demarest 2004). Additionally, termination of trade routes connecting states in the Maya Civilization had a direct effect on its decline (Conrad 2006).
Reduced trade routes meant that less trade took place within the civilization. Finally, Suck (2008) reiterates that the collapse of Maya’s central lowland cities was due to insufficient agricultural activities. Widespread deforestation resulted into droughts which led to massive crop failures. According to Suck (2008), these droughts were related to climate change brought about by environmental degradation.
To many people, the achievements of the ancient Maya are astounding. Similarly, its decline and disappearance is a mystery to many. However, the remains of Maya Civilization help in understanding its volatile and vibrant political structure and ideology, rituals and the instability that facilitated its decline (Demarest 2004). Nonetheless, scholars have conflicting evidence on its collapse. Therefore, the debate on the decline of the Maya Civilization is still alive.
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Conrad, D 2006, The ancient Maya: A commercial empire. Web.
Demarest, A 2004, Ancient Maya: The rise and fall of a rainforest civilisation, Cambridge University Press, New York.
Minster, c n.d., What happened to the ancient Maya? Web.
Suck, C 2008, The classic Maya collapse, Totem: The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 16, no.1. Web.