Archive for the ‘Ancient Central America’ Category
The one hundredth anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu has occurred and the site has become one of the most popular tourist destinations. Archaeologists originally believed that the site was a palace or estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti who lived from 1438 CE to 1472 CE. Now, archaeologists are beginning to think that the site may have been created for different uses.
Machu Picchu is located 2,430 meters or 7,970 feet above sea level. It sits on a mountain ridge and looks down on the Urubamba Valley. Construction on the site began around 1400 CE and was later abandoned approximately 100 years later when the Spanish Conquest began.
One theory is that the site was built in an area that was sacred to the Inca people. The Inca considered the Urubamba River to be sacred. Machu Picchu is built on a mountain which is circled almost completely by the Urubamba River. The site is also positioned so that the rising and setting of the sun is in alignment with mountains that are religiously significant. This is something that is unique to Machu Picchu.
The site also may have acted as a temple that was dedicated to an order known as the Virgins of the Sun. These women lived at Machu Picchu and were responsible for maintaining sacred fires, the weaving of sacred and royal clothing and even the preparation of ritual food. They were supervised by women known as Mama Cuna and governed by a high priestess known as the Coya Pasca.
A third theory was that the site acted as a royal retreat for the Incan Emperor. It was believed that the site was used so that the royal court could hunt, entertain guests and generally relax. It is unknown how long the court would have stayed at Machu Picchu. The theory was developed in the 1980’s and was based on a document written in the 16th century. It referred to a royal estate that was named Picchu and which was constructed in an area close to where Machu Picchu is actually located.
Another theory states that Machu Picchu may have been built as a way of recreating a mythic landscape that was important to the Inca people. The theory is that Machu Picchu acted as a kind of Mecca for the Incan people and that the journey to the site was actually a recreation of the harrowing journey that their ancestors took. The pilgrimage is believed to have begun at Lake Titicaca which lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. The path that they followed went underground for a distance before it emerged in an area close to Cusco.
A final theory states that the site was actually an Inca city known as Vilcabamba la Vieja. This was the site where Inca rulers maintained their independence and fought against the Spanish conquistadors that were invading the Inca Empire in the 16th century. This theory was disproved when archaeologists identified the refuge in Espiritu Pampa which was a jungle site located approximately 80 miles west of Cusco.
Archaeologists now believe that the discovery of the Mayan city of Holtun (which means Head of Stone) in Guatemala may provide them with a wealth of information about the daily lives of the ancient Maya. The site was discovered in the 1990’s and is located in northern Guatemala. The name “Head of Stone” comes from the massive stone masks located at the site.
Archaeologists first discovered the site after looters unearthed large, sculpted stone masks that were located on the side of one of the principal structures. Unfortunately, looters managed to destroy the major architecture at the site. The site was later surveyed by the IADAEH’s Department of Prehispanic and Colonial Monuments and investigations were continued at the site in 2010.
The site is made up of approximately 115 structures. They had previously been concealed by the thick jungle that had grown over them. The structures are grouped into six architectural groups. Some of the structures at the site include basal platforms, patios, mounds, pyramids, courtyards, causeways and several other structures. They are still largely obscured by the jungle vegetation that had grown over them. The site is also home to a number of stone houses or buildings that may have been used as burial chambers by Mayan kings. It is this use of stone homes as burial chambers that may have made it more difficult for researchers to find the royal remains.
Scientists have been able to determine that there would have been important religious ceremonies held at the city even though it was not as large or culturally advanced as other cities such as Tikal. Archaeologists have stated that if Tikal was the equivalent of a New York or a Los Angeles that it would have roughly compared to an Atlanta or a Denver.
Now scientists have been able to use different mapping techniques imaging technology in order to further excavate and explore the site. They have used three dimensional mapping in order to erase centuries of jungle growth as well as ground penetrating radar that has shown them a wealth of new information about what life would have been like when the site was being lived in.
It is believed that the site was in use between 600 BCE and 900 CE (the Late to Middle Preclassic period). At this time, it was estimated that approximately two thousand permanent residents would have made their home in the city. It was believed that at this time the Mayan peoples did not view their kings as being the center of the universe. Because of this view, it may have made more sense for kings to have been buried in their homes rather than in pyramids as they were in later Mayan civilizations.
It is also believed that the site would have accommodated a number of visitors who would have come to the site at times of great importance. Some of these events would have included the crowning of a king or the naming of a royal heir. At this time the site would have had to accommodate several thousand additional visitors.
Each year on May 5th, many Mexican-Americans (and some Mexicans) gather together to celebrate Cinqo de Mayo. Compared to some celebrations it is a fairly modern one. The celebration celebrates the victory that Mexican troops had during the French occupation of Mexico.
On May 5th, 1862, a force of 8,000 French troops attacked the Mexican army. The odds seemed overwhelmingly in favor of the French. After all, the Mexicans only had about 4,000 troops in their army and the French had proven undefeatable in battle. In the fifty years preceding the battle, no army had managed to defeat the French. Things seemed hopeless.
And yet, they weren’t. Even though the Mexican army was much more poorly equipped, they not only defeated the French they were able to crush them. The battle was known as the Battle of Puebla. In modern times, while the celebration of the Mexican victory is still celebrated by the people of Puebla, Cinqo de Mayo is not celebrated on a massive scale throughout the rest of Mexico. It is, however, being celebrated by many Mexican-Americans who are currently living in the United States. The day has, for them, become a way to celebrate their Mexican heritage.
Cinqo de Mayo is a modern celebration but there are other celebrated traditions that are much older. One perfect example is the Danza de los Voladores or Dance of the Flyers. This is a tradition that has its roots in the time predating the Spanish presence in Mexico. While it is performed in Mexico, the tradition has actually spread throughout much of Mesoamerica.
The practice is a spectacular one. A team of five dancers scales a pole that is 30 meters in height. Four of the participants attach themselves to ropes and the fifth balances on top of the pole. The man on the pole dances and plays a flute, all the while remaining balanced at the top. While he does so, the other four participants (who are known as voladores) launch themselves from the top of the pole. They descend from the top of the pole with only ropes to keep them from falling to their death.
While the five individuals are traditionally men, women have recently been allowed to take part in the ritual. Women were first trained as voladores starting in 1972 although their participation in the ritual is still quite rare.
The modern version of this ritual was started as a way to appease the gods after a brutal drought that happened approximately 450 years ago. The four voladores represent the elements of earth, water, air and fire. In more ancient versions of the ritual there were taboos and other aspects attached to performing the ritual. In the past, the voladores did not represent the elements. Instead, they would often be dressed in bird costumes instead. There was also much more ritual attached to the harvesting and preparation of the tree that would form the pole used in the ritual.
Different areas of Mexico and Mesoamerica celebrate this practice differently. There are often differences in the shape of the pole
There have been many reports in the news about Mayan predictions that the world will end in December of 2012. However, there are likely just as many individuals who are arguing about what this means for the world as there are reports to argue about. A great number of people believe that the world will literally end on the date predicted in the Mayan long count calendar. But the actual prediction says something very different.
The Mayan or Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is a complicated system that calculates dates based on the number of days that have passed since the world was created. According to the calendar, this equated to August 11th, 3114 BCE according to a variation on the Gregorian calendar that much of the world follows today. This variation is known as the Proleptic Gregorian calendar. The Long Count calendar was one of several that were used to mark the passage of time. They included the Haab’, a 365-day solar calendar, and a 260-day calendar known as the Tzolk’in.
While the other two calendars could be used to identify days that would happen within a 52 year period. If someone needed to identify a date that would fall outside of that 52 year period, they needed a different way to identify it and, in these cases, the Long Count calendar was used instead. The passage of time could be measured in units of 20. A uinal was made up of 20 days. A group of 18 uinals made a tun, which worked out to 360 days. 20 tuns made a unit of time known as a k’atun and 20 k’atuns made a unit of time known as a b’ak’tun. This equaled 144,000 days. On December 20th, 2012, the 13th b’ak’tun since the creation of the world will end.
However, when the Mayans talked about the end of the world, they were not necessarily talking about the destruction of the planet Earth itself. Instead, they believed that there were a progression of different “world ages” and that we are currently living in the fourth world age. It is this that is supposed to be ending in 2012 and that the time will be one of transformation. There has been some argument over whether or not this transformation will be accompanied by the destruction of the planet or some other great apocalypse.
There have been some Mayan texts found that do mention the end of B’ak’tun 13, the day that correlates to December 20th, 2012. In many of the books, it mentions that great and important events will take place, and in at least one it states that at least one god will return to the Earth to visit his children. There have also been written records that mention dates that take place after December, 2012, something which would be totally unlikely if the Mayans thought the world was ending.
Whether the Mayans’ view of a period of transformation and rebirth, or the modern doomsday beliefs that the world will end will come true remains to be seen. All around the world, people watch and wait to see what the future will bring.
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