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Sep 10
2009

History of Mayan Civilization: Tikal

Posted by: Travel-Adventures in Lifestyle

Tagged in: Tikal

Travel-Adventures

History of the Mayan site Tikal in Guatemala

History per se is never accurate. The only real account we have of history is what is left by opinion. This is especially true in the realm of Mayan history, where the most elaborate accounts of history are sourced from unskilled archaeologists, opinionated historians, inaccurate translations, biased Spanish Conquistador scripts. Other than such archaeologists, historians, and scripts, we are left with eroding hieroglyphics that aren’t always decipherable, even by those that speak one or two of over 30 dialects of Mayan. Thus, the following account, as with any historical account of Mayan history, should be read with a bit a constructive and inquisitive skepticism. Don’t take our word for it, seek the truth, or at least something close to it.


Chapters in this article:

The Period: Classic
Tikal and Tourism
The Word Tikal
Tikal History
Excavation and Archeology
Temple Descriptions
Mayan Timeline for Tikal
More Information
References

The Period: Classic

Mayan civilization mapClassic Maya culture developed in three regions in Mesoamerica. By far the most important and most complete urban developments occurred in the lowlands in the "central region" of southern Guatemala. This region is a drainage basin about sixty miles long and twenty miles wide and is covered by tropical rain forest; the Mayas, in fact, are only one of two peoples to develop an urban culture in a tropical rainforest. [1]

The principal city in this region was Tikal, but the spread of urbanization extended south to Honduras; the southernmost Mayan city was Copan in northern Honduras. In the Guatemalan highlands to the north, Mayan culture developed less fully. The highlands are more temperate and seem to have been the main suppliers of raw materials to the central urban centers.[3] The other major region of Mayan development was the Yucatan peninsula making up the southern and eastern portions of modern-day Mexico. This is a dry region and, although urban centers were built in this region, including Chichen Itza and Uxmal (pronounced "Oosh-mal"), most scholars believe that this was a culturally marginal area.[4] After the abandonment of the Classic Mayan cities, the Yucatán peninsula became the principal region of a new, synthetic culture called Toltec-Mayan which was formed when Toltecs migrating from the north integrated with indigenous Maya peoples.[5]

Tikal and Tourism

Tikal, pronounced, “teeKhal” is the second largest of the ancient ruined cities of the Mayan World civilization, second only to Calakmul.[6] Located in El Petén, Guatemala, where regions are distinguished by departments rather than states, Tikal has recently become on of Guatemla’s most sought after tourist destination. Near the cities of Flores and Santa Elena Tikal is also one of the best preserved Mayan archaeological sites in South America alongside Chichen Itza and Machu pichu.

The Word Tikal

It is suggested that Tikal’s name derives from the word, “Ti-akal, a Mayan place name meaning "At the Reservoir.[7] Differences in Roman spelling aside, the name could simply be a hybrid of the original Proto-Mayan word. The term, nonetheless, refers to the several large and partially artificial water basins found near the center of the ruins.

Tikal History

Temple 3 in Tikal, GuatemalaAs one of the major cultural and population centers in Maya civilization Tikal’s monumental architecture dates to the 4th century BC, when it reached its apex during the Classic Period ca. 200 AD to 900 AD.[8] During which time, according to some sources, the site dominated the Maya region politically.[9] It is debated as to whether the Maya of the region ever had contact with indigenous population. Hieroglyphics in Palenque and Chichen Itza indicate that there may have been a mixture of cultures between the Mixteca, Atzecs of Cental Mexico and the Maya of Chiapas, creating distinct subcultures of a former pacifist, or non-sacrifice practicing civilization. [10]

There is also evidence that Tikal was even conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century A.D.[11] Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century.[12]

Unlike its Mayan cousin, Gran Acropolis Ednza in Campeche, Mexico, Tikal had no water other than what was collected from rainwater and stored in underground storage facilities called chultuns. Archaeologists working in Tikal during the last century utilized the ancient underground facilities to store water for their own use. The absence of springs, rivers, and lakes in the immediate vicinity of Tikal highlights a prodigious feat: building a major city with only supplies of stored seasonal rainfall.[13]

Tikal prospered with intensive agricultural techniques, which were far more advanced than the slash & burn methods originally theorized by archeologists. The reliance on seasonal rainfall left Tikal vulnerable to prolonged drought, which is now thought to have played a major role in the Classic Maya Collapse. [14]

Other theories suggest that Tikal was never a major power in the Mayan world, but a subject of the empire civilization established by El Caracol and Calakmul. And even other sources indicate that Tikal was a dominating influence in the southern Maya. We do know, however, that Tikal was often at war and inscriptions tell of alliances and conflict with other Maya states, including UaxactunTikal Temple Caracol, and Calakmul.[15] The site was defeated at the end of the Early Classic by Caracol, who rose to take Tikal's place as the paramount center in the southern Maya lowlands. It appears another defeat was suffered at the hands of Dos Pilas during the middle 7th century, with the possible capture and sacrifice of Tikal's ruler at the time.[16]

Excavation and Archeology

Tikal TempleSimilar to the majority of archaeological sites in the Mayan World, only a fraction of the structures in Tikal have been fully excavated. With heavy tourism in and out of Tikal almost year-round and poor funds, excavations have not made significant advances even after decades of archaeological work. The most prominent of the structures that have been excavated are Temples I - VI, each of which supports a temple structure on their summits. Some of these pyramids are over 60 meters high (200 feet). They were numbered sequentially during the early survey of the site.[17]


Temple Descriptions

Temple I : also known as the Temple of Ah Cacao or Temple of the Great Jaguar . C.E. 695;

Temple II: also known as the Moon Temple in C.E. 702;

Temple III : C.E. 810. The largest structure at Tikal,

Temple IV : approximately 70 meters (230 feet) tall.

Temple V : C.E. 750, is the only Temple where no tomb has been found.

Temple VI, also known as the Temple of the Inscriptions, C.E. 766.

Mayan Timeline for Tikal

B.C.

11,000

The first hunter-gatherers settle in the Maya highlands and lowlands.

3113

The creation of the world takes place, according to the Maya Long Count calendar.

2600

Maya civilization begins.

2000

The rise of the Olmec civilization, from which many aspects of Maya culture are derived. Village farming becomes established throughout Maya regions.

700

Writing is developed in Mesoamerica.

400

The earliest known solar calendars carved in stone are in use among the Maya, although the solar calendar may have been known and used by the Maya before this date.

300

The Maya adopt the idea of a hierarchical society ruled by nobles and kings.

100

The city of Teotihuacan is founded and for centuries is the cultural, religious and trading centre of Mesoamerica.

50

The Maya city of Cerros is built, with a complex of temples and ball courts. It is abandoned (for reasons unknown) a hundred years later and its people return to fishing and farming.

A.D.

100

The decline of the Olmecs.

400

The Maya highlands fall under the domination of Teotihuacan, and the disintegration of Maya culture and language begins in some parts of the highlands.

500

The Maya city of Tikal becomes the first great Maya city, as citizens from Teotihuacan make their way to Tikal, introducing new ideas involving weaponry, captives, ritual practices and human sacrifice.

600

An unknown event destroys the civilization at Teotihuacan, along with the empire it supported. Tikal becomes the largest city-state in Mesoamerica , with as many as 500,000 inhabitants within the city and its hinterland.

683

The Emperor Pacal dies at the age of 80 and is buried in the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque.

751

Long-standing Maya alliances begin to break down. Trade between Maya city-states declines, and inter-state conflict increases.

869

Construction ceases in Tikal, marking the beginning of the city's decline.

899

Tikal is abandoned.

900

The Classic Period of Maya history ends, with the collapse of the southern lowland cities. Maya cities in the northern Yucatán continue to thrive.

The original article was posted by Duende Tours: History of Mayan Civilization Tikal

More information

- History of Palenque
- General information on Mayan pyramids
- Rainforest pictures
- Guatemala Pictures
- Tours of Tikal by Duende Tours

References

[1] Thomas, Benjamin. A Time of Reconquest: History, the Maya Revival, and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas The American Historical Review, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 417-450doi:10.2307/1571458

[2] Coe, Michael D. (1987). The Maya, 4th edition (revised), London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27455-X.

[3] Sharer, Robert J. (1994). The Ancient Maya, 5th edition (fully revised), Stanford CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-804-72130-0.

[4] Coe, Michael D. (1987). The Maya, 4th edition (revised), London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27455-X.

[5] Thomas, Benjamin. A Time of Reconquest: History, the Maya Revival, and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas The American Historical Review, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 417-450doi:10.2307/1571458

[6] Sharer, Robert J. (1994). The Ancient Maya, 5th edition (fully revised), Stanford CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-804-72130-0.

[7] Kerr, Justin (n.d.). A Precolumbian Portfolio (online database). FAMSI Research Materials. Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. Retrieved on 2007-06-13.

[8] Coe, Michael D. (1987). The Maya, 4th edition (revised), London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27455-X.

[9] Gill, Richardson B. (2000). The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life, and Death. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-826-32194-1. OCLC 43567384.

[10] Gill, Richardson B. (2000). The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life, and Death. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-826-32194-1. OCLC 43567384.

[11] Coe, Michael D. (1987). The Maya, 4th edition (revised), London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27455-X.

[12] Sharer, Robert J. (1994). The Ancient Maya, 5th edition (fully revised), Stanford CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-804-72130-0.

[13] Thomas, Benjamin. A Time of Reconquest: History, the Maya Revival, and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas The American Historical Review, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 417-450doi:10.2307/1571458

[14] Kerr, Justin (n.d.). A Precolumbian Portfolio (online database). FAMSI Research Materials. Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. Retrieved on 2007-06-13.

[15] Coe, Michael D. (1987). The Maya, 4th edition (revised), London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27455-X.

[16] Harrison, Peter D. (2006). "Maya Architecture at Tikal", in Nikolai Grube (ed.): Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest, Eva Eggebrecht and Matthias Seidel (assistant eds.), Köln: Könemann Press, pp.218–231. ISBN 3-8331-1957-8. OCLC 71165439.

[17] Harrison, Peter D. (2006). "Maya Architecture at Tikal", in Nikolai Grube (ed.): Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest, Eva Eggebrecht and Matthias Seidel (assistant eds.), Köln: Könemann Press, pp.218–231. ISBN 3-8331-1957-8. OCLC 71165439.

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