Home > Free Essays > Sciences > Anthropology > The Tikal City’s History
Cite this

The Tikal City’s History Research Paper


Architecture has been considered as one of the greatest inventions of man since time immemorial. The beginning of architecture cannot be traced at the exact date but it is believed that many ancient communities practiced different forms of architectural designs. Although modern architecture has been precipitated by the need to have better places to live, the development of ancient architecture was mainly driven by the social, political and religious inspirations which were greatly embraced by ancient communities.

For example, one of the most notable locations of such ancient architectures is the city of Tikal. Owing to its rich history in architecture and other forms of civilizations such as astronomy, anthropologists have found it necessary to document Tikal both as remarkable historical site and a source of rich socio-cultural and political life of the Mayans who lived in this place (Thurston, 1996).

It is against this background that the study on the city of Tikal has been given much prominence. In addition, throughout the anthropological history of Tikal, it is astounding to note that astronomy was one of the remarkable developments as discussed in this paper.

Tikal is located in the heart of Guatemalan jungle –more than 300 kilometers away from Guatemala City and covers an area of approximately 125sq. kilometers. It is one of the largest pre-Columbian civilization architectures that still stand the test of time as one of the largest and well established archaeological sites of ancient history (Andrea, 2002). Its history can be traced back to 500-400 years B.C as part of the ancient civilization of Mayan people.

Furthermore, its architectural buildings and growth has been historically associated with power and sacrificial ritual performances and thus, it was the most powerful kingdom of its time in the region according to the Mayan culture. Mayan architecture in Tikal is indeed a notable pre-classical anthropological site whose civilization traversed through 1,700 B.C. It mainly began in Mirada basin on the northern side of Guatemala.

Other historical estimates have documented that human settlement in this city may have begun around 6000 years ago and their architectural design is also associated with Tikal. This has prompted anthropologists to perceive Tikal as one of the oldest architectures in the world. As a matter of fact, Tikal appeared to be the only ancient civilization in American peninsula that had records of its history kept.

Despite lack of their architectural documentations, their messages were mainly passed through broadcasting on stone billboards and these messages could last for centuries. Up and until now, their messages are still embedded on stone billboards in temples built in Tikal (Fischer, 1996). Their architecture also expanded and started recording on potteries, paper and skin on events when they were considered to be important as part of their cultural values.

Currently, there are un-deciphered hieroglyphs that contain numerous messages which were recorded during the reign of Tikal.
The admiration of Mayan architecture may extend for centuries and up to the present; this spectacular nature of Tikal has not yet dwindled. In this respect, many anthropologists have relentlessly sought to understand the inspiration behind this kind of great invention. As a result, there have been widespread unfounded claims about the influence of Mayan architecture.

Theoretically, it has been argued that Mayan architecture is still one of the oldest architectures in the world today, and independent of external forces. This paper thus argues on the emergence and growth of Mayan architecture in Tikal as influenced by social, political, cultural and astronomical aspects of the Mayan people. Without these aspects of influence, Mayan architecture at Tikal would be nonexistent.

Social and Cultural aspects of ancient Mayans in relation to architecture

The presence of complex storage structures in Tikal is solely attributed to agriculture. Being complex famers who concentrated on cultivation of maize, not as a source of basic food but for the purposes of spirituality, the Mayans were inspired by agriculture and their spiritual attachment to construct complex storage structures.

They believed that man was created from maize by the gods and thus embarked on planting it by attaching immense cosmological importance. Consequently, they used complicated agricultural techniques such as canal irrigations during their time and thus were able to grow food even during dry spells (Roderick, 2008). This clearly depicts that Tikal was not just a simple ancient development but a complex system and way of life that was highly valued by its occupants.

For instance, systems of governance were rightly in place and it was without doubt that anthropologists found it necessary to write a full documentary on it. Although there is a conventional view that architecture improved as an innovation, their architecture, founded on agriculture, remained unchanged and still stands to challenge modern architecture since it was passionately discovered.

Due to this significant attachment to this crop, they developed complex architectural designs for constructing storage points for the maize and water, which led to the presence complex agricultural structures like underground storage tanks for water and granaries for maize storage.

Without artistic inventions founded on remembrance of past events and leaders, Mayan art architecture would not have come into place. Paintings and drawings on the walls of the temples suggest valuation of the ceremonies carried out in the city.

Stone inscriptions and sculpture carvings of great rulers of the city on the temples, tombs and other stones are reflective of the need to remember their past events and leaders (Fischer, 1996). It can thus be argued that the presence of artistic in their architecture is founded on their passion for remembering the past and for future generations and not for aesthetic purposes (Culbert, 1996).

Modern site

The current site of Tikal architecture has been greatly renovated by modern institutions although the historical significance can still be felt. The government of Guatemala in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania has to a larger extent attempted to restore the original form of Tikal. The tall temples that were built using limestone and other locally available materials were indeed remarkable in the field of anthropology.

As already noted, most of the materials used to construct Tikal were locally assembled with greater emphasis being laid on the strength and availability of the same materials. Inside the Tikal architecture, there were myriad of evidence showing the possibility of a well governed establishment such as administrative systems, pyramids, places of worship, works of art such as monuments and sculptures as well as royal palaces.

After limestone was excavated from various sites, the hollow depressions were not left idle but were mainly used as water reservoirs. On the same note, the stucco was used to create a smooth surface of the plazas. Hence, the reservoirs were mainly filled with water that would flow straightaway from the smooth finished surfaces.

Astronomy has been a growing segment of science since time immemorial. While its development may not be specifically attributed to any group or individuals, it is profound to note that Tikal had an outstanding interest and immense development in astronomy. It is imperative to note that this community was pretty keen in keeping records of time and events. These were keenly kept in calendars.

The latter were not just used for the sake of keeping records of events against various time scales. Instead, the evolution of consciousness was also an integral part of astronomy that was being practiced at Tikal. This is a vivid demonstration that Tikal acted as a centre through which the science of astronomy grew and developed. This has been illustrated in the pictorial representation below:

Tikal pictorial representation.


It has also been greatly mistaken that the presence of the architectural grounds for playing rubber ball were inspired by their love of the game. This is untrue since the construction, hence architecture, was inspired by ritual performances that were greats occasions in the history of Tikal (Brett, 2008). There was usually a play of two strong teams which was witnessed by a crowd that could gather from the different regions of the city. Such plays were conceded by a ritual sacrifice of one of the teams to the gods for a better life.

It is believed that the winning team was willingly sacrificed in order to earn a better afterlife which was associated with favorable living conditions, away from their hardships of war, hunger and harsh living conditions. This was so because every member of the Mayan community was willing to earn a better afterlife and thus the winning team members used to embrace them being sacrificed. Therefore the construction of the fields never came up because of the game but rather because of their will to perform offerings.

Mayan sacrificial activities heavily influenced the presence, shapes and sizes of most of their temples, without which they would not have existed. Since they practiced ritual bloodletting sacrifices on great architectural temples for the gods especially the god of the sun in an attempt to appease him to protect their crops and give them rain for growing food, they embarked in building complex temples within the city for such occasions.

The blood letting, as depicted in the movie Apocalypto, was of war captive victims who were sacrificed in high stair-case temple, by after being pierced with a sharp knife and their hearts plucked out, an activity which was thought to be the source of blood for the gods (Ristevski, 2006).

Modern view holds that these temples were built for worship services, it neglects acknowledgement of the fact that sacrificial actions inspired their constructions. Therefore the presence, shapes and sizes of temples are not as a result of worship aspect but rather the sacrificial aspect. There is bound

Political Tikal

It is also evident that Mayan political systems played integral role in the setting up of Tikal civilization especially in terms of architecture. Hierarchical leaderships emphasized on architecture as increasing demand arose for quenching the pride of the then leaders and thus places to live were built.

There are adequate anthropological evidences that are suggestive of their political influence which were visible from the large palaces constructed for elite burials. These palaces were covered by shrines and murals that show trapping of royal families and thus it can be argued that the ancient Mayan community practiced a complex type of political leadership that emphasized on improved architecture (Finkelstein, 2000).

Although there was notable change of political leaderships from the pre-classic era to the classic era with later signs of chiefdom shown with its emergence in the middle of the pre-classic era, the influence of political influence in palace building never ceased (Sharer & Danien, 1992).

There was a birth of an elite group of rulers, better architects, who were mainly focused on developing the city through bringing into existence city-state architectural structures and governing bodies or organizations in the late pre-classic era. This, according to various sources, is believed to have led to rivalries within states and consequently continual wars amongst the states of the then formed cities and thus inspiring building of palaces to show kingdoms (Rice, 2004).

Astronomy and the development of mathematics

A numeration system was largely used by the Mayans in Tikal to advance their knowledge in astronomy. This fact proves that astronomy in Tikal did not take place accidentally but it was rather a well molded process through cultural appeal and inherent civilization that was taking place in Tikal establishment.

In particular, Mayans in Tikal made use of number 20 in their numeration. In addition, the zero concepts was also inclusive in the development of numbering system. As a matter of fact, skills gained in mathematics to enable interpretation of astronomical concepts were rather gradual. For instance, the number five represented by a bar while number one was represented by one dot.

This point, it is worthy to mention that this numbering system that made use of bars and dots was largely borrowed by the modern technology applied in computing. Currently, a binary system that makes use of 1 and zero is used in computing to identify the numerous commands applied in computers on each single day. As a result, complex computations were made possible by the Mayans in Tikal.

This facilitated a smooth and fast development of skills and knowledge in astronomy. In addition, there were myriad of astronomical operations which were carried out using a lot of accuracy. Indeed, precision in astronomical calculations was found to be necessary in order to obtain accurate results. It is also documented that there was massive of mathematical geniuses among the Mayans in Tikal.

This precipitated the rate at which the science in astronomy developed. Interestingly, the whole idea about mathematical intelligence was perceived as a religious attribute that deserved to be approached from a sacred point of view. Additionally, design and engineering professions also borrowed a lot from the skills and knowledge acquired in mathematics. A typical example was the construction of large water reservoirs through the hydraulic engineering feat.

Moreover, there were several amazing scientific discoveries at Tikal that were related to astronomy and which enabled the Tikal community to acquire massive knowledge on astronomy. These are indeed solid pieces of evidence that the establishment of Tikal was indeed a remarkable development not just within the socio-political or economic domains of the community that lived around this area, but also towards the overall development of science especially in the field of astronomy.

Tikal astronomical aspects and its influence

There is need to reiterate that without astrology as opposed to astronomy as a science for the Mayans living in Tikal, construction of observatories would not have occurred. In ancient Mesoamerican region, astrology was actively considered to be integral in daily life. Due to strong attachment to astrology, they were architecturally inspired to build structures for observing movement of stars (Teeple, 1970).

Therefore, the presence of observatories in Tikal is attributed to astrology. Modern view points out that these structures were built for astronomical purposes, ignoring the view that astronomy was only studied for astrological purposes. As it has been described by various authors, astronomy had a strong influence in the construction of observatories but astrology has been greatly overlooked. Watching of the stars and thus the gods had to be done closer to them, hence construction of such complex and tall structures for this work.

They noted this on their 260-day calendar which originated in the years between 900-500 a.c. , which was very important for them since it was heavily used in determination of people’s destinies and also prediction of planting season (Beck, 2004). It was held that the calendar coincided with the human gestation period estimated to be in the lower and upper ranges of five days of the calendar.

It is through architectural structures of observatories that they developed the most accurate annual calendar through their recording which was known as the long count. It had been calculated with only a small marginal error in comparison to other calendars. Although there is the view that the calendars emanated from prehistoric periods, there is little evidence to support this.

The structures thus provided platforms for new discoveries hence the invention of the two calendars (Sidney, 1974). The existence of this calendar can be attributed to the presence of great and effective architectural platforms for observation and recordings. Thus great influence had been reached by using the calendars in making new progresses on observation and recording hence calendar.

The study of heavenly bodies on the observatories was integrated into the daily lives of the people of Tikal (Milbrath, 1999). They studied movement of the stars from the temples and observed that they created specific patterns which were clearly recorded. Tikal rulers who were also Mayans, made celestial associations with heavenly stars and claimed to have come from either the sun, Venus or the moon (Milbrath, 1999).

There have also been claims that Mayan prediction that the end of the world will be in 2012 is correct since their foundations of astrology are still firm in place (Masson &Freidel, 2002). According to numerous historical sources, hieroglyphic writings left behind as well as pictorial paintings dealing with studies on astronomy indicated that they were able to predict the future accurately.

Hanson (2011) also notes that they were able to accurately predict the end of their civilization which indeed took place as earlier estimated, where they could not continue to count. Scientific evidence does not concur with this. Given their error values in the calculation calendars, there was a big margin for an error in their calculation since their calendar is different from the one we use. It has thus been concluded that Mayan beliefs, inspired by great architecture on the observatories, were incorrect


To recap it all, it is vital to reiterate that the anthropological history of Tikal is quite wide and may not be exhausted. It is against this backdrop that this paper assumed the thesis statement that without these aspects of influence, Mayan architecture at Tikal would be nonexistent.

The aforementioned aspects in Tikal discussed in the paper include the socio-cultural, economic and political values that were embraced by communities living in Tikal. From the discussion above, it is evident that the Mayans of Tikal were great architects inspired by their great techniques of agriculture. The presence of complex storage structures in Tikal is solely attributed to agriculture.

They are the only ancient Without artistic inventions founded on remembrance of past events and leaders, Mayan art architecture would not have come into place. They practiced ritual bloodletting sacrifices for the gods especially the god of the sun in an attempt to appease him to protect their crops and give them rain for growing food, which greatly affected their architecture.

Although, it is difficult to accurately document their political system. There were signs of chiefdom political system shown and emergence of leadership in the middle of the pre-classic era which all emphasized on improved palaces and temples. After durations of approximately forty years, there were notable new constructions of temples by new rulers hence architecture greatly affected by political system.

Moreover, they practiced sophisticated astrology which was highly integrated with life and architecture. Due to these they constructed places of observation, improving their architecture. After such studies on temples and observed that they created specific patterns which were clearly recorded.

These observed behaviors of the stars were thought to be predictive of future events. Their astronomical activities were based on a 260-day calendar which originated in the years between 900-500a.c and inspired architecture. It has also been seriously mistaken that the presence of the architectural grounds for playing rubber ball were inspired by their love of the game while offering sacrifices inspired them.


Andrea, S. J. (2002). Heart of creation: the Mesoamerican world and the legacy of Linda Schele. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Beck, W.E. (2004). Maya eclipses: Modern astronomical data, the Triple Tritos and the Double Ztolkin. Florida: University of Central Florida Press.

Brett, R. L. (2008). Social movements, indigenous politics and democratization in Guatemala. Boston: Brill.

Culbert, P. (1996). Classic Maya Political History: Hieroglyphic and Archaeological Evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Finkelstein, N. (2000). . Web.

Fischer, E. F. (1996). Maya cultural activism in Guatemala. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Hanson, C. (2011). Authentic Maya: Maya Culture. Web.

Masson, M. A. &Freidel, D. A. (2002). Ancient Maya political economies.Walnut. Creek: AltaMira Press.

Milbrath, S. (1999). Star gods of the Maya : astronomy in art, folklore, and calendars. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Rice, P.M. (2004). Maya political science: time, astronomy, and the cosmos. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Ristevski, J. (2006). Tikal. Oakland: University of California.

Sharer, R. J. & Danien, E. C. (1992). New theories on the ancient Maya. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sidney, T. (1974). Maya astronomy. London: Royal Society of London.

Teeple, J. E. (1970). Maya astronomy. Houston: Johnson Reprint Corp.

Thurston, H. (1996). Early Astronomy. New York: Springer.

This research paper on The Tikal City’s History was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Research Paper sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

301 certified writers online

Cite This paper

Select a citation style:


IvyPanda. (2019, July 5). The Tikal City's History. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/tikal/

Work Cited

"The Tikal City's History." IvyPanda, 5 July 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/tikal/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Tikal City's History." July 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/tikal/.


IvyPanda. "The Tikal City's History." July 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/tikal/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "The Tikal City's History." July 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/tikal/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Tikal City's History'. 5 July.

More related papers