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Paper Topic:

Mesoamerican Civilizations

Mayan Societal Hierarchy

From ancient times to the pre-colonial era

Mayan society is known for its artistic and mathematical accomplishments . From Chichen Itza to Tikal , Mayan shrines still inspire awe . Although the Mayans and their neighbors , the Aztecs , both practiced human sacrifice , the two societies are highly distinct . These distinctions came from differing religious perspectives and economic realities . The unique experiences of the Maya in carving a life out of the jungles gave rise to a unique societal structure

To better understand this mysterious culture , archaeologists and historians must construct

a new societal model . The Maya were , and are unique among early Mesoamerican civilizations . In any society , there are exceptions to the accepted norm . These exceptions are what make any particular civilization unique . The Maya were more than just farmers and hereditary elites . In some cases , people worked across class lines . In others , they advanced from relatively humble beginnings to positions of respect within society

The predominant view of Mayan society is that there were two social classes : elites and peasants - and that there was little or no crossover between the two . This may be too simplistic of a starting point for examining how Maya society functioned

Societal Background

The original Mayan peoples were hunting and gathering tribes that inhabited Central America at least 10 ,000 years ago . These tribes were nomadic until the cultivation of Maize more than 5000 years later . As the production of Maize reached its peak , several Mayan cities began to emerge . A thousand years later , the cities were gone . It is from the ruins of those cities that most of what we know about the Maya has been learned

Based on language groupings and historical settlement patterns , the Mayan society at its peak encompassed the eastern half of Mesoamerica This would include what are now the nations of Guatemala , Belize Honduras and the Yucatan region of Mexico

It is unknown when or why the Mayans settled these particular areas . The dense jungles of the region were particularly inhospitable for subsistence farming . The initial task of clearing the jungle vegetation was an immense effort in and of itself . The soil was often resistant to replanting , requiring farmers to move and start the process over again

Despite the difficulties , the Mayans built a thriving culture that was noted for its artistic and mathematic achievements

The Maya were not a centrally controlled empire like more modern nation-states . Instead , Maya society was a loose affiliation of settlements spread over a fairly large region . Local Lords called ajaws wielded a great deal of power over their respective territories . Local kingdoms gained or lost power through continual processes of warfare or political unification . It is likely that each local kingdom thought of itself as a separate , individual nation

During the classic era of Mayan culture , city building reached its peak Cities were essentially elaborate religious monuments . A pyramid was built at the center of each population center . Nearby , a temple and observatory served as the centers of religious activity . Courtyards and...

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