The Mayans are an interesting people. Known for their complex calendars, their ridiculous
tendency to put hieroglyphs on virtually anything, and for their mysterious disappearance in
the 9th century, they have left plenty of history for archeologists to uncover. If you’re new here, I’m Darius Cosden
and this is Vlogs of Knowledge. Make sure to subscribe and hit the notification
bell because we do have brand new episodes every single Wednesday. And today, we’re talking about the Mayan
Civilization. Now, I’m going to assume that you’ve all heard of the Mayan Civilization. I think we can all remember when the world
was supposed to end on December 21st, 2012. That came directly from the Mayan Calendar,
because it was on that date that the calendar stopped. However, you have to be careful not to confuse
the Mayans with the Aztecs, or the Incas, both of which are totally different civilizations
that not only lived in a different location, but also in a different time period. The Incas came much later in the 13th century
AD in modern day Peru, and the Aztecs around the same time in modern day Mexico. The Mayans however, are said to have been
the biggest and most influential civilizations in what historians now call “Mesoamerica”. Mesoamerica is a simple way to define the
Americas before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. And this Spanish conquest is very important. But we’ll talk more about that later. Let’s start first with location. The Mayans were largely centred in the Yutacan
peninsula, part of modern-day Mexico, as well as parts of Guatemala and Belize. The tropical location allowed for agriculture
to develop, most notably the growing of many crops such as maize, beans and other vegetables,
and for rivers to form, which was crucial in allowing transportation by canoe later
on. Mayan history dates back to somewhere between
the year 8000 BC and 2000 BC, which historians have now called the Archaic Period. During this time a group of hunter-gatherer
people began to settle down, to develop agriculture and to domesticate animals. This radical shift in lifestyle gave rise
to the very first villages and settlements of the then-Mayan civilization. These small tribes of nomads wandering around
from location to location had finally learnt the art of settling down, planting a crop
and waiting for the harvest. Towards the end of the Archaic Period, you
had small local villages start to pop up around the territory. They included sacred spots and temples dedicated
to the various gods of the time. Keep in mind that there is nothing particularly
interesting or remarcable from the Mayans from this time. They were, just like their neighbours across
the ocean, in the process of developing their culture into what was later to become a fully-grown
civilization. What follows is the next period in Mayan history:
the Pre-Classical Period. While they were already settled, cultivating
their crops and living in small villages, another civilization was rising to the west:
the Olmecs. The Olmecs settled along the Gulf of Mexico
and began building great cities of stone and brick. Not only did they build great cities, but
they were also one of the first in Mesoamerica to create sculptures, which we now refer to
as the “Olmec heads”. These pieces of art suggest a highly sophisticated
skill in sculpture and even point us to the first indications of shamanic religious practices. But they also posed a very interesting question
to modern day archeologists. Why are these sculptures so big? I mean look at them, they’re huge! Since they were so big, at first, we thought
that these Olmecs might be giants. I mean it’s a good guess, but later on we
discovered that they were not. The Olmecs are an interesting civilization
because no one knows where they came from, nor what happened to them. The evidence doesn’t really allow us to be fully
conclusive, but the Olmecs are believed to have brought forth many traditions and rituals
that would dominate the later cultures of Mesoamerica. They are believed to have been the first in
the Western hemisphere to develop writing, to perform human sacrifices with human blood,
to develop the “long-count calendar”, which we’ll talk about later, and to play
the “Mesoamerican ballgame” that we found to be a central aspect of Mayan culture. That game, that the Mayans called “Pok-A-Tok”, was a central part in their culture. I mean this wasn’t just a game that people played for fun recreationally. This was a game that had serious religious
implications that often ended up in people dying as a result of the score in the game. Allow me to explain. You can think of it like soccer. You have two teams, a rubber ball, and a sort
of net. Now this net, is a little different. It was more like a basketball hoop, attached maybe on a wall somewhere. The net could be as high up as 20 feet and
the goal was to get the rubber ball through the net. Now here’s the catch. You weren’t allowed to use your hands, nor
your feet, which as you can imagine, made it extremely difficult to score a goal. As a result, games would often go on for days
and as soon as one person scored, it was considered the end of the game and that his team had
won. Now I said that the game involved sacrifice. Historians are still unsure of who was actually
being sacrificed, whether it be the captain of the losing team, or the captain of the
winning team, or sometimes even the entire team, whether it be the winners or losers, but at least they can at least all agree that
usually, somebody was killed at the end of the game. This game represented the natural cycle and
movement of life. And for the Mayans, sacrifice was a central
part of life. They didn’t believe in the traditional “beginning
of time” and “end of time”. Instead, they believed that everything functioned
in cycles, and that nothing ever died or ceased to exist. Sacrifices were seen as simply passing on
to the next phase in the cycle, whether it be going through the underworld and ascending
through the 9 levels found there, or possibly trying to get to heaven, but having to pass
through the 13 levels to get there, the Mayans had absolutely no problem with
offering human sacrifices. Their religion involved several aspects of
nature, astronomy and rituals. Most Gods represented a form in nature, for
example, the Sun God, or Maize God, which came directly from the Maize that was a central
part in Mayan diet. They were polytheistic, and worshipped somewhere
around 165 different gods. The years went by, and slowly, these small
villages and communities turned into larger urban centres. After the turn of the millennium, around the
year 250 AD, we enter the period known as the “classical period”. And this is the period that most of us think
about when talking about the Mayans. The villages that had been built in the previous
centuries were now turning to massive cities housing tens of thousands of inhabitants. Just like the Egyptians, large pyramid structures
were built, and the Mayan cities that have marvelled modern-day archeologists for so
long, had finally been created. These pyramids were built mostly for religious
purposes. One purpose was to serve as a place
to offer sacrifices to the gods. Another one might have been to represent
the Mayan aspiration of reaching heaven by building vertically. Now, when looking at these buildings, perhaps
the most obvious thing one can see is the fact that hieroglyphic script is everywhere. It’s no secret that the Mayan culture was
heavily artistic. And their hieroglyphs are the key to us understanding
their history and their ideologies. For the longest time, these hieroglyphs were
thought to be indecipherable. We thought we had too few remaining texts,
too few remaining examples to properly identify what these writings mean. But, in the 1980s, some very smart people
slowly began to crack the code. We realized that the Mayans were big believers
in documenting their own history. Large carvings found in front of temples have
been deciphered to reveal the long history of the different rulers of the temple they
were representing. You literally had each ruler’s date of birth,
the day they ascended to the throne, their important life events, and their eventual
death. Having made these discoveries, archeologists
were then able to build a sort of dictionary with hieroglyphs that would help them decipher
even more of these carvings. We’ve learnt about their culture, their
religious beliefs, their daily rituals, and we were finally able to decipher the famous
Mayan calendar, which has confused people for many centuries. The discoveries that we’ve made about the
Mayans tell us that they were a very advanced civilization, capable of great mathematics
and astronomy. When we realized that their calendar ends
on December 21st, 2012, it’s normal that people got scared about a potential end of
the world scenario. The end date, contrary to the paranoia that
happened in 2012, and as we’ve discovered, does not indicate the end of time. It in fact indicates the end of a cycle and
the beginning of a new one, which fits perfectly with the idea that cycles were the primary
aspect of the universe in Mayan culture. So no guys, don’t worry, we’re still stuck
here on Earth. At least for now. For about 700 years, they thrived and advanced. They were able to predict solar eclipses,
to calculate the precise position of Venus at all times, and for the most part, left
a very thorough written record of all of their advancements. But, this civilization has something strange
to it. In the 9th century AD, most of their big cities
were abandoned. The Mayans simply decided to leave. Now we don’t know why exactly. Perhaps it was the deforestation that they
caused, or a drought that made agriculture very difficult, which some evidence might
suggest, or it might simply be a religious reason. We don’t know. The truth is that we probably would’ve known
why, and also generally we would’ve known a whole lot more about the Mayans than we
do now, had it not been for the fact that most of their texts and books were burned
by the Spanish in the 16h century AD. When Spain came to the new world, they saw
the Mayans and other cultures as inferior people that could be “used” and most importantly,
people that could be converted to Catholicism. Catholicism was the Spanish religion and they
were very adamant on converting people to it. And if you know a little bit about Spanish
history, this was in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition, which, well you know was horrible. They came, they burnt their books, and converted
them to Catholicism and pretty much destroyed most of their vast, rich culture. Although some of it survived and went underground,
it underwent a profound transformation. It’s hard to keep your religion and culture
when you have Spain, who is more sophisticated and dangerous, dedicated to making sure you
lose it. The Mayans still remain today, still perform
some of the same rituals of their ancestors, but you can definitely see the Spanish influence. Their culture has become a sort of mix of
both, washed down and transformed throughout the years. It is unfortunate that this happened, but
it did. The only thing we can do now is work with
what we have, and try to keep discovering this interesting civilization. And now I want to pass the question onto you
guys. What do you think of the Mayan civilization? What do you think about the fact that Spain came and litterally destroyed everything? Please do leave me a comment I would love
to read and answer them all, and bonus points for you if you do leave a comment, as always, you get a chance to be featured in next week’s video as a fan of the week! Now as you know, and say at the end of every video,
I haven’t talked about everything regarding the Mayan civilization. That’s ok. I’m actually doing this on purpose to get
you guys to go out and research more on your own. Because I believe in research and I believe
in getting you guys educated on a subject. It’s the whole reason I do this show. For those curious, that want to learn more about the Mayan Civilization, as always,
you’ll find links in the description where you can start! Thank you so much for watching this video, thank you for giving your time to me rambling about the Mayan Civilization, if you’ve enjoyed this video please leave it a big thumbs up, make sure to subscribe and hit the notification
bell, join #TeamKnowledge and be notified whenever I release a new video. With that being said, my name has been Darius
Cosden, it’s been an absolute pleasure and you can follow me on social media, the links will be in the description, and I’ll see you all next Wednesday!




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