El Castillo - Maya

The Mystery of the Lost Ancient Culture of the Maya

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The collapse of the Maya civilization is considered one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the ancient world. One can only speculate their downfall from the numerous explanations presented by researchers. The differences of their accounts imply the Maya and their way of life is virtually a complete mystery to our modern way of thinking. How did this advanced society disappear without leaving any solid evidence of their downfall? Is this a sign of a sudden collapse from a cataclysm or, like some believe, abandonment as the result of political upheaval?

With the absence of any concrete evidence there are many possibilities of their decline and the same can be said about their belief system as well. The main clues are from paintings on walls, pottery, and very few writings in the form of deciphered hieroglyphs. It’s very difficult for researchers to piece together this ancient culture without information being left out or interpreted incorrectly. Only recent discoveries have been used as evidence to explain how they lived and what happened to their lost civilization. During its reign there is no doubt this amazing civilization was far beyond it’s time in comparison to other cultures but there are still many unsolved mysteries surrounding this extraordinary people and their beliefs.

Clues and evidence support the idea the Maya possessed superior knowledge in mathematics and astronomy. The keen observation of the night’s sky and its relation to their calendar and monuments must have had significant meaning in their way of life. For the time and effort it would have taken to advance to the level of knowledge they processed, it seems this information must have had important meaning to them. Some of this wisdom would take decades of observation and the use of very sophisticated mathematics to calculate the astronomical cycles which take thousands of years to complete, such as precession. How did the buildup of this knowledge completely disappear without someone passing it along unless something happened to the entire culture, taking their accomplishments with it?

The Maya left behind the evidence to prove their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy was superior but why did they practice sacrificial rituals and bloodletting? Was this their way of population control or to please the Gods of the underworld as most believe? These rituals were a complete mystery until the Bonampak murals were discovered during an excavation in 1949. Before this time it was believed they were a peaceful non-violent culture. The most popular belief, that they performed ceremonies to please the gods, follows the same patterns as other cultures such as the Aztecs.

Bonampak Mural

Bonampak Mural (North Wall, Room 2). Image source .

It is believed from the depictions on ancient walls that members of the royal families practiced bloodletting and self-sacrifice for the sake of contacting the gods or their ancestors. It seems an advanced society would have plausible reasons to practice this sort of custom. Researchers believe the walls also depict prisoners of war as victims to human sacrifice. They determined these different ceremonies were held on certain days of the Maya calendar year or during celestial events, why would these dates be important for the type of rituals they performed?

Presentation of Captives to a Maya Ruler

Presentation of Captives to a Maya Ruler; c 785 AD; Mexico. Kimbell Art Museum Fort Worth, Texas. Source: Wikipedia

For what is believed as entertainment, the Maya played a ballgame called poc-ta-poc. The game involved a rubber ball they would strike with their hips trying to bounce it through a stone circle usually mounted high on a wall. With the existence of over 550 of these ball courts discovered so far, this evidence should determine the importance of the games to their everyday lives. It is believed by many that the games were the most sacred practice of the Maya and the winners were sacrificed with honor. Others find this speculation hard to believe with the idea of all the best players being killed off leaving no competition for future games. For this reason, they believe the losers were sacrificed. If it was an honor to win the game only to be sacrificed they must have believed it was for a valid reason and this would encourage future team members to compete harder. What if the ballgames were not for entertainment purpose but were instead used to determine who will enter the afterlife? Was this part of their beliefs of entering the next life with royalty and honor? The depiction on walls of the players wearing their headdresses and royal jewelry should indicate they were of high rank on both sides. Even if the losers were sacrificed, why would they risk their lives to please the gods or for the sake of entertainment? It seems they would want to hold their positions by sacrificing someone of less importance as the ancient Roman gladiators did.


What if the ball games were just for fun and had absolutely nothing to do with sacrifice? That seems more likely, who would take up a sport where the loser (or winner) gets sacrificed. Dur.

aprilholloway's picture

It's a good question but there is actually extensive evidence that sacrifice occurred after the game. It is depicted in detailed carvings around some of the ball courts that have been found. 

angieblackmon's picture

i think in todays age we view sacrafice as this horrible uncivilized thing...which i mean i personally feel like it is....but to these people in this time, it was so very important and i wish i could wrap my head around why. like if they killed someone to honor the god of rain, did it actually rain? was there a time when these sacrafices actually yielded tangible results? or coincedence? a tradition carried on by the younger generation? so many questions but also some interesting points made in the article. this is a subject i can't read enough about!


love, light and blessings


Tsurugi's picture

Sacrifice is such a strange thing. In the biblical old testament texts sacrifices are used frequently, and as far as I can tell, for two primary purposes: to summon a god or get his/her attention, or as "payment"(i.e., in return for something the god did or will do, usually to the benefit of the person offering the sacrifice).
OT sacrifices are usually animals rather than people, but even so, wtf? The premise that the architect and creator of the universe requires a life to be ritually ended in return for effecting a change is weird. Even in the instances where "God" approaches the human and says he wants something done, the human has to make a sacrifice before the plan can happen. Why should that be? There do seem to be rules underlying the whole sacrifice thing, but I don't understand them. And the system appears to have gone dormant or stopped working at some point in the past 2 millenia, possibly resulting in the abrupt and devastating collapses of civilizations and empires around the globe. Something changed.

One of the most interesting accounts of sacrifice in the biblical OT takes place after the flood, when the Ark has grounded on the mountain. Noah and his family "build an altar of unhewn stone" and make a sacrifice upon it, then set the resultant mess on fire. It says the smoke of the burning sacrifice was "heady" or somehow alluring to God and he follows it to Noah's position. Again, wtf?? God likes the smell of burning flesh?
The bit about unhewn stone is interesting as well. Why is that important? I recall that Solomon was instructed not to hew the stone which would be used to build the first temple in Jerusalem as well...that "no tool of iron should ring against the stone of the house of God". The Quran says that this is why Solomon made the Djinn build the temple...they were magical beings of great strength and power and did not need tools to work the stone. I also recall that in Fairy lore, "cold iron" was for some reason repellent to the powerful fey folk. They hated it, couldn't stand to even be in close proximity to it. And even today we can see that many cairns, menhirs, and stone circles are made of unhewn stones.

All of this stuff seems connected, but I don't understand it yet.

Like most ancient civilizations, the Mayan's had extensive knowledge in collecting natural energy using frequencies and magnetism, the use of sacrifice is always linked to this some how as in they knew something we didn't about celestial line ups and our natural bodies resonance that benefits us in someway

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