The Ancient City of Tikal: Mayan Cultural, Social, Astronomy and Political Influence

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Introduction

Architecture has been considered as one of the greatest inventions of man. The beginning of architecture can not be traced to the exact date but it is believed that many ancient communities practiced different forms of architecture. Although modern architecture comes from the demands of the need to have a better places to live, ancient architecture arose from the demands of social, political and religious inspirations. One of the most notable localities of such ancient architectures is the city of Tikal. With rich history in architecture and other civilizations, there is need to consider understanding this city.

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Tikal, located in the heart of Guatemalan jungle –more than 300 kilometers away from Guatemala City and covering an area of approximately 125sq. kilometers, is one of the largest pre-Columbian civilization architectures that still stand the test of time to have become amongst the largest archaeological sites of ancient history.1 Its history can be traced back to 500-400 years B.C by the Mayan people and its building and growth are associated with power and sacrificial ritual performances and thus, it was the most powerful kingdoms of its time in the region according to the Mayan culture. Mayan architecture in Tikal has been traced back to pre-classical periods of around 1,700 B.C, which mainly began in Mirada basin on the northern side of Guatemala.2 Other predictions have speculated human settlement and activity in this city to have begun around 6000 years ago and their architecture is also associated with this long and thus thought of as the oldest architecture in the world. They are the only ancient civilization in the American peninsula that had records of their history kept and great architectural designs. Despite the lack of their architectural documentations, their messages were mainly passed through broadcasting on stone billboards and these messages could last for centuries. Up and until now, there still exist most of their messages embedded in stone billboards in the temples built in Tikal.3 Their architecture also expanded to recording on potteries, paper and skin on events they considered very important aspects of their culture. Currently there are un-deciphered hieroglyphs that contain numerous messages, which were recorded during the reign of Tikal.

The admiration of Mayan architecture extends for centuries and up to the present, this admiration has not yet dwindled. In this respect, many have sought to understand the inspiration for this great kind of invention. As a result, there have been widespread unfounded claims about the influence of Mayan architecture. Theoretically, it has been argued that Mayan architecture is still one of the oldest architectures in the world today, and independent of external forces. This paper thus argues on the emergence and growth of Mayan architecture in Tikal as influenced by social, political, cultural and astronomical aspects of the Mayan people. Without these aspects of influence, Mayan architecture at Tikal would be non-existent.

Social and Cultural aspects of ancient Mayans in relation to architecture

The presence of complex storage structures in Tikal is solely attributed to agriculture. Being complex farmers who concentrated on cultivation of maize, not as a source of basic food but for spirituality, the Mayans were inspired by agriculture and their spiritual attachment to construct complex storage structures. They believed that man was created from maize by the gods and thus embarked on planting it by attaching immense cosmological importance. Consequently, they used complicated agricultural techniques such as canal irrigations during their time and thus were able to grow food even during dry spells.4 Although there is a conventional view that architecture improved as an innovation, their architecture, founded on agriculture, remained unchanged and still stands to challenge modern architecture since it was passionately discovered. Due to this significant attachment to this crop, they developed complex architectural designs for constructing storage points for the maize and water, which led to the presence complex agricultural structures like underground storage tanks for water and granaries for maize storage.

Without artistic inventions founded on remembrance of past events and leaders, Mayan art architecture would not have come into place. Paintings and drawings on the walls of the temples suggest valuation of the ceremonies carried out in the city. Stone inscriptions and sculpture carvings of great rulers of the city on the temples, tombs and other stones are reflective of the need to remember their past events and leaders.5 It can thus be argued that the presence of artistic in their architecture is founded on their passion for remembering the past and for future generations and not for aesthetic purposes6.

It has also been greatly mistaken that the presence of the architectural grounds for playing rubber ball was inspired by their love of the game. This is untrue since the construction, hence architecture, was inspired by ritual performances that were greats occasions in the history of Tikal.7 There was usually a play of two strong teams which was witnessed by a crowd that could gather from the different regions of the city. Such plays were conceded by a ritual sacrifice of one of the teams to the gods for a better life. It is believed that the winning team was willingly sacrificed to earn a better afterlife which was associated with favorable living conditions, away from their hardships of war, hunger and harsh living conditions. This was so because every member of the Mayan community was willing to earn a better afterlife and thus the winning team members used to embrace them being sacrificed. Therefore the construction of the fields never came up because of the game but rather because of their will to perform offerings.

Mayan sacrificial activities heavily influenced the presence, shapes and sizes of most of their temples, without which they would not have existed. Since they practiced ritual bloodletting sacrifices on great architectural temples for the gods especially the god of the sun in an attempt to appease him to protect their crops and give them rain for growing food8, they embarked in building complex temples within the city for such occasions. The blood letting, as depicted in the movie Apocalypto, was of war captive victims who were sacrificed in high stair-case temple, by after being pierced with a sharp knife and their hearts plucked out, an activity which was thought to be the source of blood for the gods. Modern view holds that these temples were built for worship services, it neglects acknowledgement of the fact that sacrificial actions inspired their constructions. Therefore the presence, shapes and sizes of temples are not as a result of worship aspect but rather the sacrificial aspect. There is bound

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Political Tikal

Without Mayan political systems, palaces would not be present in Tikal. Hierarchical leaderships emphasized on architecture as more and more demand arose for pride quenching of the then leaders and thus places to live were built. Evidences suggestive of their political influence are visible from the large palaces that can be seen as constructed to the elite burials that are covered by shrines and murals that show trapping of royal families and thus it can be argued that the ancient Mayan community practiced a complex type of political leadership that emphasized on improved architecture9. Although there was notable change of political leadership from the pre-classic era to the classic era with later signs of chiefdom shown with its emergence in the middle of the pre-classic era10, the influence of political influence in palace building never ceased. There was a birth of an elite group of rulers, better architects, who were mainly focused on developing the city through bringing into existence city-state architectural structures and governing bodies or organizations in the late pre-classic era. This, according to various sources, is believed to have led to rivalries within states and consequently continual wars amongst the states of the then formed cities11 and thus inspiring building of palaces to show kingdoms.

Tikal astronomical aspects and its influence

There is need to observe that without astrology as opposed to astronomy as a science for the Mayans, construction of observatories would not have occurred. In ancient Mesoamerican region, astrology was actively considered to be integral in daily lives. Due to strong attachment to astrology, they were architecturally inspired to build structures for observing movements of stars12. Thus the presence of observatories in Tikal is attributed to astrology. Modern view points out that these structures were built for astronomical purposes, ignoring the view that astronomy was only studied for astrological purposes. As it has been described by various authors, astronomy had a strong influence in the construction of observatories but astrology has been greatly overlooked. Watching of the stars and thus the gods had to be done closer to them, hence construction of such complex and tall structures for this work. They noted this on their 260-day calendar which originated in the years between 900-500 a.c.13 , which was very important for them since it was heavily used in determination of people’s destinies and also prediction of planting season. It was held that the calendar coincided with the human gestation period estimated to be in the lower and upper ranges of five days of the calendar.

It is through architectural structures of observatories that they developed the most accurate annual calendar through their recording, called the long count, which had been calculated with only a small marginal error in comparison to other calendars. Although there is the view that the calendars emanated from prehistoric periods, there is little evidence to support this. The structures thus provided platforms for discoveries hence the invention of the two calendars14. The existence of this calendar can be attributed to the presence of great and effective architectural platforms for observation and recordings. Thus great influence had been reached by using the calendars in making new progresses on observation and recording hence calendar.

The study of heavenly bodies on the observatories was integrated into the daily lives of the people of Tikal.15 They studied movement of the stars from the temples and observed that they created specific patterns which were recorded. Tikal rulers, who are Mayan, made celestial associations with heavenly stars and claimed to have come from either the sun, Venus or the moon16.

There have also been claims that Mayan prediction of the end of the world in 2012 is correct since their foundations of astrology are still in place, which is untrue. According to numerous sources, hieroglyphic writings left behind and pictorial paintings, through the studies of astronomy, they were able to predict the future accurately. Another is also believed that they were able to accurately predict the end of their civilization which happened accurately as predicted, where they could not continue to count. Scientific evidence does not concur with this. Given their error values in the calculation calendars, there was a big margin for an error in their calculation since their calendar is different from the one we use. It has thus been concluded that Mayan beliefs, inspired by great architecture on the observatories, were incorrect.

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Conclusion

From the discussion above, it is evident that the Mayans of Tikal were great architects inspired by their great techniques of agriculture. The presence of complex storage structures in Tikal is solely attributed to agriculture. Without artistic inventions founded on remembrance of past events and leaders, Mayan art architecture would not have come into place. They practiced ritual bloodletting sacrifices for the gods especially the god of the sun in an attempt to appease him to protect their crops and give them rain for growing food which greatly affected their architecture.

However, it is difficult to accurately document their political system. There were signs of chiefdom political system shown17 and emergence of rulership in the middle of the pre-classic era which all emphasized on improved palaces and temples. After durations of approximately forty years, there were notable new constructions of temples by new rulers hence architecture was greatly affected by political system.

Moreover, they practiced sophisticated astrology which was highly integrated with life and architecture. Due to these they constructed places of observation, improving their architecture. After such studies on temples and observed that they created specific patterns which were recorded. These observed behaviors of the stars were thought to be predictive of future events. Their astronomical activities were based on a 260-day calendar which originated in the years between 900-500a.c and inspired architecture. It has also been seriously mistaken that the presence of the architectural grounds for playing rubber ball was inspired by their love of the game while offering sacrifices inspired them.

Bibliography

Beck, William E. Maya eclipses: Modern astronomical data, the Triple Tritos and the Double Ztolkin. Florida: University of Central Florida, 2004.

Brett, Roderick L. Social movements, indigenous politics and democratization in Guatemala. Boston: Brill, 2008.

Culbert, Patrick. Classic Maya Political History: Hieroglyphic and Archaeological Evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Finkelstein, Norman. About Tikal and Mayan Culture, 2000. Web.

Fischer, Edward, F. Maya cultural activism in Guatemala. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

Hanson, Chris. Authentic Maya: Maya Culture. 2011. Web.

Masson, Marilyn A. and Freidel, David A. Ancient Maya political economies.Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Milbrath, Susan. Star gods of the Maya: astronomy in art, folklore, and calendars. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1999.

Rice, Prudence M. Maya political science: time, astronomy, and the cosmos. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

Ristevski, John. Tikal. Oakland: University of California, 2006.

Sharer, Robert J. and Danien, Elin C. New theories on the ancient Maya. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1992), 219-219.

Sidney, John Eric, Thompson. Maya astronomy. London: Royal Society of London, 1974.

Stone, Andrea, Joyce. Heart of creation: the Mesoamerican world and the legacy of Linda Schele. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

Teeple, John Edgar. Maya astronomy. Houston: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1970.

Thurston, Hugh, Early Astronomy. New York: Springer, 1996.

Footnotes

  1. Andrea Joyce Stone. Heart of creation: the Mesoamerican world and the legacy of Linda Schele. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002), p.13.
  2. Edward F. Fischer, Maya cultural activism in Guatemala. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), p.75.
  3. Fischer, Maya cultural activism in Guatemala, p.76.
  4. Roderick Leslie Brett. Social movements, indigenous politics and democratization in Guatemala. (Boston: Brill, 2008), p.149.
  5. Fischer, Maya cultural activism in Guatemala, P.75.
  6. Patrick Culbert. Classic Maya Political History: Hieroglyphic and Archaeological Evidence. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, p.98).
  7. Brett. Social movements, indigenous politics and democratization in Guatemala.
  8. John Ristevski. Tikal. (Oakland: University of California, 2006), p.3.
  9. Norman Finkelstein. About Tikal and Mayan Culture. (2000,p.78)
  10. Robert J. Sharer and Elin C. Danien, New theories on the ancient Maya. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1992), p.219.
  11. Prudence M. Rice. Maya political science: time, astronomy, and the cosmos. (Austin : University of Texas Press, 2004), p.126.
  12. Edgar Teeple John. Maya astronomy. (Houston: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1970, p.22).
  13. William E. Beck, Maya eclipses: Modern astronomical data, the Triple Tritos and the Double Ztolkin. (Florida: University of Central Florida, 2004), p.65.
  14. Eric, Sidney John , Thompson. Maya astronomy. (London: Royal Society of London, 1974, p.67).
  15. Susan Milbrath. Star gods of the Maya : astronomy in art, folklore, and calendars. (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1999) p.10.
  16. Milbrath, Star gods of the Maya : astronomy in art, folklore, and calendars.
  17. Marilyn Masson, A. and David Freidel, A. Ancient Maya political economies.(Walnut Creek : AltaMira Press, 2002, p67).

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Premium Papers. "The Ancient City of Tikal: Mayan Cultural, Social, Astronomy and Political Influence." April 26, 2022. https://premium-papers.com/the-ancient-city-of-tikal-mayan-cultural-social-astronomy-and-political-influence/.