Today the Maya homeland is being studied by archaeologists. They unearth buildings to reconstruct local cultures. They date and compare artifacts to determine where the Maya traded and what their daily lives were like.
They work with botanists, who study ancient pollen to detect changes in the climate and environment, and art historians who examine art and architecture.
Epigraphers decipher hieroglyphs to recover the history and stories from the Mayas. Just 30 years ago, a team of scientists figured out that the Maya clearly used complex sentence structure. Before then scientists thought the glyphs (the pictures that stand for words) were lists of dates and heroic feats. The Maya wrote stories that used plays on words and other language techniques. Led by expert scientists, hundreds of students continue to solve the mysteries. They work in thatched huts and work under the direction of Maya archaeologists.
A tzompantli is a type of wooden rack or palisade documented in several Mesoamerican civilizations, which was used for the public display of human skulls, typically those of war captives or other sacrificial victims.
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Their castle looks like a pyramid, is called El Castillo. It’s 75 feet tall. The large steps end in two big serpent heads. The Mayans knew a lot about the calendar. On the first day of spring and the first day of fall, the sun casts shadows on the steps that look like a snake wiggling down the pyramid.
To the Maya this was a lucky symbol. It meant the golden sun had entered the earth, meaning it was time to plant corn.
The main ball court is the largest anywhere, Called the Juego de Pelota, it is one of nine ball courts built in this city. Carved on both walls of the court are scenes showing Mayan figures dressed as ball players wearing heavy protective padding. Link to Chichen Itza on Mayan Kids educational site.
Chichen Itza “chee-cha nee-sa” was created by people called the Itzles in 445 BC. About 800 years later, the city was empty. Why the people left is still a mystery. The people made many pictures of feathered serpents, eagles and jaguars.
Archeologists have found a fortune in gold and jade at the Cenote Sagrado sacred cenote “say no-tay” in Chichen Itza. A cenote is a deep sinkhole with water at the bottom,
This well was used strictly for ceremonies, not for drinking. According to legend, people were sacrificed here to honor the rain god Chaac. They also tossed copper, gold, and jade offerings into the cenote
This early Mayan site covers a very large area, 42 square miles. Coba is a favorite site for the adventurous.
The jungle has not been cleared away and that makes it easier to feel like one is stepping back in time. It’s that Indiana Jones kind of feeling.
Coba is famous for a missing king, Chac Balam (Red Jaguar) who disappeared after age 30, with no stone records marking his death–very unusual for a Mayan ruler. It is assumed he was probably captured by enemies.
Mayan for “water stirred by the wind”, Coba is next to a group of shallow lakes. The archaeological remains are of a city begun in AD 600.
These structures were scattered along a system of sacbe, which means “white roads”. Each sacbe was built to exact rules. There was to be a base of stones three to 6 feet high, about 15 feet side, covered with white mortar. The remains of more than 50 sacbe have been found crossing the Peninsula There are more in Coba than in any other location.
Coba was the largest city of its time with many outlying villages, and an important trade link between the Yucatán Caribbean coast and inland cities.
The second highest pyramid on the site is called La Iglesia (the church). From the top there is a view of the surrounding jungle and one of Lake Macanxoc. Nohoch Mul, the tallest pyramid here is 138 feet tall. At the top there is a small temple with a carving of the Descending God.
There is a collection of carved stone pillars, or stelae, arranged in an area called the Grupo Macanxoc. 32 more Classic period stelae scattered throughout the Coba area.
Cunjunto Las Pinturas
Conjunto Las Pinturas was named because of the stucco paintings that once lined the walls. Here, clues of the paintings, in layers of yellow, red and blue — can still be seen on the top corner of the temple.