► Reminder:
Tonight on PBS, Cracking the
Mayan Code. 8:00 pm
► Mayan early classic
► Slides of Tikal, Palenque, Copan,
► Assignment: Mayan glyphs
The Mayan Civilization
Conquest of the Jungle
Late formative and Early Classic period
El Mirador
El Mirador
Early pre-Maya and Maya sites
► El
Mirador. From 300 BC to AD 300. Unique
► Contemporaries
► Monte Alban in Oaxaca. 500 BC to about AD
700with decline to 1500 AD
► Teotihuacán in Valley of Mexico 100 BC to AD 500
and slow decline to 1000 AD.
Forms of Influence
► Direct
through conquest
► Shared ideas and ideology
► Trade in ideas as well as commodities
► Artistic motifs
► Language
► [Think Canada, United States, Mexico of today.
Different nations and cultures but much in
common—each largely derived from European
Survey of cities/urban centers
► Peten
► Tikal
► Palenque
► Copan (pre Mayan
► Basin
of Mexico
► Teotihucan (“city of the
gods” or “place where
time began”)
► Quirigua (pre Mayan
► Yucatan
► Chichen
► We
can not speak of Early classic Maya
without also considering Teotihuacan
► Evidence of influences in shared cultural
traits and architectural / artistic styles,
cosmology, myths.
► We also have evidence from inscriptions at
Tikal of Teotihuacan “strangers from the
► Early
construction perhaps 100 BC
► Astronomical and ritual numerology
integrated with architecture
► Basic unit 32 inches. Divinition calendar
number 260 incorporated into structural
► The number 584 critical to layout and
alignments of streets.
► Pyramid
of the Sun
built over a cave
(perhaps the origin
cave of humanity)
Several construction
► Completion AD 100 at
246 feet height.
► City
incorporates 365, 29,
260, 32, 584 at basic
levels. Other numbers
also evident.
► Several separate
pyramid complexes
► In AD 100 population
of at least 100,000.
Temple complex at Tikal
Tikal. Guatemala.
How do modern cities
exhibit/advertise prestige?
► Professional
sports arenas, cultural centers
(museums, art, theater), architectural
► We see theses same concerns with prestige
at key Mayan centers.
Palenque “Palace”
This city also house the
rich tomb of Lord Pacal.
His sarcophagus was
found within several
layers of rebuilt
temples. The lid (10,000
pound limestone slab)
portrays in low relief a
mythological journey to
the underworld.
Death mask of jade.
“El Castillo” at Chichen itza
Chichen itza. Yucatan. The “jaguar” temple. Near
entry to ball court.
Ball court rings.
Chichen itza.
El Caracol. The “observatory.”
Mosaic style
Chichen itza.
Sacred cenote at Chichen itza.
Choc mool
Image from a tzompantli carving. (skull rack)
Artifacts from Copan
Artist reconstruction of Copan. Honduras.
Temple complex at Copan. Yucatan.
drinking vessel.
hunting scene
with heralds
blowing conch
shell horns.
► Slides
Written History
► Reading
Mayan glyphs Pattern recognition
not enough to translate.
► Sir Eric Thompson the leading Mayan
epigrapher until his death in 1974.*
► Insights made by Yuri Valentinovitch
Knorosov in 1960’s of syllabic fusion of
separate elements into one glyph.
The struggle
► Several
theories about Mayan glyphs in
competition: pictographic; phonetic; syllabic;
symbolic--non spoken; esoteric magic…
► Bitter
rivalries and harsh words into the 1980’s.
► Sir Thompson shown to be almost fully incorrect in
his analysis.
► Current
approach has almost unanimous support
Your struggle
► Reading
a page from one of the only
surviving Mayan books.
► Page from the Dresden Codex
 Pattern recognition
► Proceed
the way an epigrapher would…seek
► Look
for groupings
► Note: the Maya
counted in base 20
► Read the numbers
► Place value system as
in our familiar base 10,
but …
► Instead
of 1’s, 10’s,
100’s (10x10) the
Maya counted in the
20’s, 400’s (20x20) and
so on.
► They
get some really
big numbers.
Maya people today
► Throughout
Guatemala, Honduras
► Discriminated minority.
► Mostly poor and rural.
► Maintain some
language and a few
cultural arts and
► Mostly Catholic, but
practice blended faith.
What does it mean?
► We
need to calculate
the values shown.
► Which way do the
numbers go and how
do they group?
► Experimentation is the
only way to solve this.
Mayan Accomplishments
► Mathematics
► Astronomy
► Engineering
► Irrigation
► Trade
► Architecture
► Writing
and sacred libraries

The Mayan Civilization - San Jose State University