was a significant Mayan port during the 1,500 years from the
Preclassic 250 BC, to the Terminal Classic 1000 AD, and possibly was still occupied to 1542 AD the
date of European invasion. see Maya port of
Belize, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Guatemala, the ancient Maya created one of humanities great
civilisations, with stunning achievements in astronomy, mathematics and art. At its peak, it was one of the most densely populated and
culturally dynamic societies in the world.
Mayan civilisation consisted of a number of city
states with a centralised city for rituals and ceremonies overseen by an elitist theocracy,
and many smaller centers and plazes surrounding the city center. These city states
expanded and contracted in power and in population, and frequently changed allegiances. Some
consider that the polity of the Maya was similar to that of the Greek city states.
However, centralised government for all the Maya never eventuated
probably because Mayan religion did not envision centralisation as part of the
The Maya were never politically unified and during
the heIght of the Classic period AD 250-900 were divided into a patchwork of more than 60 kingdoms.
Each kingdom was ruled by a 'holy lord', these kingdoms were locked into a constant struggle
to preserve their autonomy or achieve dominance over their neighbours. Especially successful rulers
might establish themselves as 'overkings' operating far flung networks of political patronage,
however, in this turbulent political landscape no kingdom achieved a permanent hold on power
(Martin and Grube, 2000).
When a Mayan city state conquered another they
would often establish a new cooperative ruling dynasty. Some city states, and perhaps Mexican
civilisations, appear to have had a major regional influence through conquest,
diplomacy, or through trade.
cities were rich in statues, and stone inscriptions called hieroglyphs or simply glyphs. Glyphs
consisted of abstract forms; spirits, animals, plants, body parts, geographical features, and
Glyphs were written in stone, on pots and personal
objects, and in thousands of books. Glyphs are presented in grids and read from left to right and
top to bottom. Glyphs are a work of genius in art through
combining the various possibilities of religion, symbology, mathematics, art, and
The Maya scribes had tremendous latitude for visual
creativity. Their system had rules but each time a scribe wrote a phrase they could choose a
variety of sign and combine them in new ways. Originally the gylphs were one sign, but then the
scribes combined them into glyphs with up to 6 signs.
Written languages with between 20 and 35 signs are
alphabetic representing simple sounds, between 80 to 100 signs it is a syllabafy representing the
possible combinations between consonant and vowel sounds, if it
has hundreds to thousands of signs the language is logographic or based on signs for whole
words. The Maya script did not fit any of these categories
and has about 800 signs and so initially proved difficult to decipher.
As the Maya civilisation advanced, abstraction of
hieroglyphs went even further where a complex hieroglyph could be written as a single abstract form
such as a god or the head of an animal. One sign could be tucked inside another or hidden part way
behind another, two signs could be merged together hiding their attributes.
Of these Mayan glyphs we made
the sign "B'alam Ja Way" Jaguar water spirit
that welcomes visitors at our entrance.
Less than a dozen Mayan book remain as the Spanish
Christian invaders regarded them as demonic and destroyed many hundreds or thousands, and the
written history of one of the world's greatest civilisations was almost
destroyed. The Spanish also victimised scribes, through
torture and death, until the art of glyph writing died out.
Perhaps driven by the needs of astronomy and the
Maya calender, Maya mathematics was developed quite early with very sophisticated
number system, possibly more advanced than any other in the world at the
Maya used a
vigesimal number system using base 20
5. The numerals consisted of only three
symbols, zero as a shell, dots representing one, and
bars representing 5. After the number 19, larger numbers
were written using powers of 20: 1, 20, 400, 8000,
160000, etc although in calendar calculations they gave the third position a value of 360 instead of
The pre-classic Maya independently developed the concept of zero by at least as early as 36 BC,
and worked with sums
up to the hundreds of millions and very large dates. The Maya were able to measure the length of the solar year to a far higher degree of
accuracy than that used in Europe 365.242 days, compared
to the modern value of 365.242198, and the
length of the lunar month, 29.5308 days compared to the modern
value of 29.53059.
However, due to the geographical disconnect,
Mayan and Mesoamerican mathematics didi not influence European and Asian numbering systems
and mathematics. http://www.storyofmathematics.com/mayan.html
Subsequently, for over 400 years until the latter
part of the 20th Century the suppression by western industrial societies of Maya heritage,
language, and writing has been part of Maya culture. Mayan children were taught to speak in
Spanish, given Christian names, and discouraged from speaking Maya.
Mayan culture is one of the greatest strengths of
Belize. It provides a national identity that corresponds with the global effort for sustainability,
as the Maya maintained a sustainable civilisation for 2500 years in regions with poor soils and
with unpredictable rainfall.
Most fertile soils would have been farmed for crops
within a mosaic of highly utilised forest. Some areas of seasonally flooded tropical savannah may
have not been farmed. Some of the forest may have been inter-planted, or cut, to promote the growth
of useful trees. The common presence of sapodilla trees throughout Belizean forests has been
attributed to Mayan land management. see Maya Permaculture
A series of unusual droughts about 800-900 AD was
closely associated with the collapse of major Mayan cultural centers. Increased hostility between
city states, overpopulation, and loss of soil fertility through
intensive farming have also been suggested as causes for the collapse of Maya civilisation as an
elitist theocracy. Perhaps these stressors together, but
with different stressors affecting different regions, resulted in a gradual but accelerating
erosion of the power and function of city states.
However, Maya civilisation did not collapse after
the decline of many city states but continued with an emphasis on more commercially based elites
and with trade until after the European invasion.
Even after intensive land use for over 1500 years
the areas occupied by the Maya now support a high and unique
biodiversity. This resilience suggests that the
region can be sustainability developed and still maintain most if not all of its
Combining the lessons in sustainability from the
Maya with the global resources of the 21st Century will provide a model for the management of the
Caribbean for human benefit.
History for recent history from 1542 AD until the
present, both anecdotal and written sources.
Simon Martin and Nicolia Grube. 2000. Chronicle of
the Maya Kings and Queens - deciphering the dynasties of the ancient Maya. Thames and Hudson.