The Aztecs and Mayans are some of history’s oldest civilizations. However, with age also comes a historical baggage that’s not really accessible to everyone. Despite the fact that the Mayans live on today, in the seclusion of the Yucatan peninsula, most of the things anthropologists know about them is by doing a lot – and I mean a lot – of digging. Thankfully, civilization studies have come far enough to be able to tell us 15 Surprising Facts About Mayans You Probably Didn’t Know.
1. Mystery Disappearance
The Mayans were more than just a civilization: they were an empire. With so much land to occupy and such a big name made for yourself at the time, it’s absolutely inexplicable how the Mayan empire simply collapsed all of sudden. When the Spanish first arrived in the pre-Colombian Central America area, they found nothing but ruins. Researchers conducted numerous studies, through which they came up with a variety of theories that could help explain the reasons for the empire’s decline. It’s theorized that it could have been a range of factors, from overpopulation to famine or drought.
2. Unique Weapons
The Mayans were also famed warriors, and perhaps one of the reasons behind their combat excellence is the material chosen to build their weapons. Like the Aztecs, they didn’t use iron and steel to forge weaponry, instead opting to craft them out of volcanic rock or obsidian. Hey, I don’t know about you, but anyone who requires getting near a volcano to pick up materials sounds like the epitome of hardcore to me.
3. Marks Of The Noblemen
Ancient times aren’t exactly known for shying away from displays of opulence. If you happened to be born in a noble Mayan family, it was made sure that absolutely everyone knew about it. Their noblemen could easily be recognized through their physical features: crossed eyes, flattened foreheads and noses with prominent beak-like shapes. Oh, but there’s more: they coated their teeth in jade, and the noble women filed theirs until they were sharp and pointy.
4. Writing System
All ancient civilizations had personalized writing systems, making it difficult for anything truly spectacular to stand out. The Mayans, however, had an incredibly advanced type of writing, and they never stepped back from an opportunity to remind everyone of that. They made scribbles on basically any surface that could be written on, buildings and walls included. I would have said that’s not exactly a step forward from the prehistoric homo sapiens, who outlined mammoths on the walls of their caves. But we still do it, don’t we? Here we are, perched on top of the 21st century, graffiti spray in hand. At least, we grew to consider it art, though it’s likely the Mayans thought the same about their decorative writings.
5. Writing System 2.0
Did I mention the fact that we can’t indulge ourselves in the previously mentioned super advanced writing system? When the Spanish raided the American lands and conquered them, the most tragic loss was the one of the Mayan writings. Not all of them were lost, fortunately, and were picked up by translators and historians during the 20th and 21st century.
6. The Mayan Calendars
Assuming you haven’t been living on the Moon for the last decade, it’s practically impossible to have dodged the bullet of the most panic-inducing apocalyptic prophecy. The world was supposed to end on the 21st of December of 2012, according to a reading of one of the three types of calendars the Mayans used. The Long Count calendar had a peculiar cycle, which reset once every 2,800,000 days. When the remains of one of those calendars were found, people assumed that the lack of continuity beyond the year 2012 was a certain clue that the world would end. All it took afterward was for some fanatics to start preaching it, then all hell broke loose. I wonder what those people that invested millions of dollars in apocalyptic bunkers are up to these days.
7. Sacrifice Rituals
Ancient civilizations were well known for their barbarity. Some of the most gruesome of acts were committed in the name of faith, as homages brought to the gods they worshiped. The Mayans mostly sacrificed prisoners and slaves, by getting them through a ritual with a highly questionable level of morality. They were painted blue, sometimes even tortured, then led to the top of the temple. There, they were either killed by a barrage of arrows or had their still beating hearts torn out of their chests.
8. A Deadly Game
Both the Mayans and the Aztecs were very fond of a sport that we know today as the “Mesoamerican Ballgame.” The courts where the matches were held are still standing, though the game was much bloodier than any of our sports today (yes, even hockey and rugby). It’s believed that the losing team would then serve as a sacrifice and that the game was played with severed heads. I think it’s safe to say that they weren’t the most welcoming of people.
9. Birthday Names
Mayans weren’t the most creative of parents. They named their children depending on which day they were born on.
10. Advanced Medicine
Medicine in the Mayan empire was incredibly well developed, with one of their biggest achievements being the capacity to create prosthesis.
Mayan pyramids are the things that almost instantly make us think of ancient Central American civilizations. You know the ones. They are what the Eiffel Tower is to France. We need to thank Chichen Itza for those impressive constructions, one of the biggest cities of Maya. Until recently, Chichen Itza was in the care of a private owner, though it now belongs to the government.
Whether you are a big history junkie, a person with a general liking of anthropology or someone who’s recently watched Apocalypto and is looking for more knowledge to indulge in, these 11 Surprising Facts About Mayans You Probably Didn’t Know are here to satiate your curiosity. They were (and still are) a fascinating culture, but between the amazing architecture and fake apocalyptic prophecies, they were also a truly violent bunch. Let’s all be glad that football evolved to be the way it is today, all things considered.