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Maya Expert Answers Maya Civilization Questions From Twitter | Tech Support | WIRED

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Maya Expert Answers Maya Civilization Questions From Twitter | Tech Support | WIRED

Maya Support (00:00:00)

Shaping Baby Heads (00:00:10)

  • The Maya reshaped their babies' heads by tying boards to their heads.
  • This was done to elongate the skull and make it look more like a husk of corn.
  • Only elite people were allowed to do this, and it was a sign of high status.

Kukulkan (00:00:59)

  • Sergio expresses disappointment that Kukulkan, a Mayan deity, was defeated by a 19-year-old girl in the movie Black Panther.
  • Dr. Barnhard explains that Kukulkan is the Maya word for Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.
  • He says that the character in the movie was accurate to the real Kukulkan, who was known for his power, wisdom, grace, and good governance.

Maya Calendar (00:01:40)

  • Astronic asks why the Mayan calendar looks like an Oreo.
  • Dr. Barnhard clarifies that the image in question is actually the Aztec calendar stone, not the Mayan calendar.
  • The Maya did have a 260-day calendar based on the human gestation period, which is unique among ancient civilizations.
  • The Maya created the most elaborate calendar system in the ancient world, using five different cycles to tell the time.

Maya Sandals (00:02:48)

  • Nick Bloom asks what the first clothing trend might have been.
  • Dr. Barnhard suggests that Mayan sandals were likely a popular fashion item.
  • Sandals are depicted on ceramic vessels, and the Maya had a sophisticated sense of style.

2012 Apocalypse (00:03:13)

  • Superpower Armor asks if anyone else is upset that the world didn't end in 2012, as predicted by the Mayan calendar.
  • Dr. Barnhard explains that the Maya were not predicting the end of the world in 2012.
  • They were referring to the end of the third creation and the beginning of the fourth creation in their calendar.
  • The next switch in the calendar will occur in the year 4,772.

Maya vs Aztec (00:04:15)

  • Tigerwood Suck asks how the Maya and the Aztecs compare.
  • The Maya and the Aztecs shared many similarities, but there were also key differences.
  • The Aztecs were an empire, while the Maya were independent city-states.
  • The Aztecs focused on conquest, warfare, and sacrifice, while the Maya did not engage in much sacrificing.
  • The Maya practiced auto-sacrifice, with kings bloodletting themselves in public to protect the people and please the gods.

Sports (00:04:47)

  • The Maya had a popular sport called the Maya ball game or Poca ta Pok.
  • They made rubber balls from latex and sulfur for the game.
  • The ball courts were I-shaped with a center line and two out of bounds areas.
  • Teams bounced the ball back and forth using their hips or chest, and could not touch it with their hands or feet.
  • Some versions of the ball court had rings on the sides, and getting the ball through the ring ended the game.
  • The game originated 3500 years ago and was played by the Aztecs as well.
  • Aztec cities had their own ball teams, and sometimes settled disputes through ball games instead of war.
  • Rich people sat close to the court and threw treasures and gifts to the winning team.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the winners of the Maya ball game were not sacrificed.

Sacrifice (00:06:36)

  • The Maya sacrificed mostly warriors captured in ceremonial battles.
  • Elites fought in these battles, and those captured were stabbed in the leg and dragged to the temple for sacrifice.
  • The Aztecs sacrificed a wider range of people.

Lost Maya City (00:06:57)

  • A 16-year-old boy in Canada used maps and Maya codes to identify a potential Maya city, but it turned out not to be accurate.
  • With the advent of LiDAR technology, Maya cities are being discovered at a faster rate.
  • Irregular or unnatural geometric shapes or arrangements, such as Maya pyramids arranged in groups around plazas, can indicate the presence of a man-made city.
  • The speaker, an archaeologist, found a city in Belize named Masna in the 1990s using topography maps and his knowledge of Maya preferences for settlement locations.

Cacao (00:08:53)

  • The Mayans used cacao beans as a form of currency.
  • Counterfeit chocolate beans made of ceramics were a problem, and Aztec police would search for them in the markets.
  • Chocolate was a drink of the elite, made with chili pepper and no sugar.
  • Cacao only grew in the Maya area due to specific tropical forest conditions.

Maya Civilization (00:09:56)

  • The Maya civilization can be traced back 10,000 years, but 2,000 years is a conservative estimate for its beginning.
  • The Classic Maya civilization began around 200 CE, with the construction of large cities in northern Guatemala.
  • The Classic period lasted for 400 years, marked by dynasties of kings, elaborate hieroglyphs, and carved monuments.
  • The Terminal Classic period followed, characterized by movement, abandonment of cities, and the emergence of new ones.
  • The Postclassic period lasted from 900 CE until Spanish contact around 1500.

Pyramids (00:11:06)

  • The tallest Maya pyramid is about 68 meters tall, while the tallest Egyptian pyramid stands at 150 meters.
  • Egyptian pyramids were built as tombs from the beginning, while Maya pyramids were used as temples during the kings' lives and converted into tombs after their deaths.
  • The Maya built thousands of pyramids, far more than the Egyptians, and many more are believed to be hidden under the jungle.

Tools (00:12:09)

  • The Maya did not use metal tools, instead relying on materials like chert (flint) and obsidian.
  • Chert was used to make axes for cutting limestone, while obsidian, a volcanic glass, was used for finer cutting due to its sharpness and durability.

Aliens (00:12:49)

  • The speaker does not believe that aliens helped the Aztec and Maya civilizations, arguing that there is no evidence of advanced technologies beyond stone and temples.
  • The speaker sees questions about alien involvement as disparaging the abilities of non-Western societies.

King Pakal (00:13:16)

  • King Pakal was a significant ruler in the history of the city of Palenque.
  • He became king at the age of 12 and ruled for 80 years, bringing the city to its peak.
  • Pakal's sarcophagus lid depicts his moment of death, falling down the world tree into the underworld, not an alien spaceship.

Palenque (00:14:10)

  • Palenque is the speaker's favorite Mayan ruin.
  • The speaker spent three years mapping the site.
  • Only a small portion of the city has been excavated, suggesting a population of less than 10,000 people.
  • Palenque was a center of Mayan scientific and artistic knowledge.
  • The Palace at Palenque has a three-story tower, which is unique in the Mayan world and still stands today despite being abandoned 1200 years ago.

Indigenous Writing (00:15:25)

  • Other indigenous people in Mesoamerica had writing scripts, but none were as sophisticated as the Mayan writing system.
  • Mayan writing reflects the spoken word, with symbols representing sounds.
  • The Maya had one of the four original writing systems in the world, along with Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Chinese scripts.
  • Mayan glyphs represent words, often broken up into syllables.
  • Mayan books were made from long strips of tree bark folded like an accordion and painted with limestone paste and stucco.

Mayan Language (00:17:26)

  • Millions of Maya people still speak their language today, with Yucatec Maya being the largest language group with about 5 million speakers.
  • The movie Apocalypto features actors speaking actual Mayan, providing a good example of how the language sounds.
  • Some Mayan sounds have a stop at the end, such as the word for fire, which is "tz'i".
  • Apocalypto overdid the depiction of human sacrifice, which was more common among the Aztecs than the Maya.

Building Ancient Cities (00:18:39)

  • The ancient Maya built large cities far from water sources by quarrying stone for construction and creating reservoirs from the quarries.
  • They lined the quarries with stucco to make giant swimming pools.
  • The plazas between temples were sloped to funnel rainwater into the reservoirs.
  • Water lilies were used as an indicator of fresh water, as they only grow in unpolluted water.
  • A map of the city of Palenque revealed a sewer system that used gravity to transport fresh water and dispose of wastewater.

Astronomy (00:19:55)

  • The ancient Maya practiced horizon-based astronomy, with priests observing the rising and setting of celestial bodies from a fixed location.
  • By recording these observations over generations, they gained a deep understanding of the cycles of planets, the moon, and the sun.
  • Maya buildings were often oriented to interact with the cycles of the sun, such as El Castillo in Chichén Itzá, which casts a shadow resembling a snake during equinox sunsets.

Math (00:21:05)

  • The Maya had a sophisticated mathematical system based on three symbols: a dot for one, a bar for five, and a shell or flower for zero.
  • Unlike the Western system, Maya numerals had a direct relationship with the symbols used, allowing for elegant mathematical operations.
  • For example, adding three (three dots) and five (a bar) resulted in a bar with three dots over it, representing the symbol for eight.

Maya Today (00:22:11)

  • Contrary to popular belief, the Maya people are still present today, with an estimated population of around 15 million.
  • Despite persecution and cultural disruption following contact with Europeans, the Maya community has endured and grown over the last 500 years.
  • Many Maya people reside in the United States, particularly in convenience stores, and those under 5'2 in height are likely of Maya descent.
  • The misconception about the disappearance of the Maya stems from the abandonment of their cities during the classic period around 700 years ago.
  • However, this abandonment did not signify their extinction or disappearance; they simply relocated rather than perishing or being abducted by aliens.

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