Thursday, January 20, 2011

History Mystery:Written in Stone

The mysterious Mayan writing used pictographs and phonetic symbols. The first sign to be understood were mathematical, and usually appear in the form of dates. The Maya used what is known as the Long Count system, in which each date was recorded as the number of days since an earlier, fixed date. Many archaeologists believe that this fixed date corresponds to August 13, 3114 BC- a day which precedes the earliest settlements of the Maya tribes by about 1000 years.
The date may relate to Maya legends about the origin of the world. The Maya believed that three worlds had been made and destroyed by the gods before their own world came into being. The first world contained men made from earth; the gods destroyed them because they were mindless. The men of the second world were made of wood; but they were soulless and unintelligent, and were drowned or devoured by demons. In the third world, the gods made the Maya ancestors from gruel of the scared plant, Maize. They were destroyed to make way for the present world- for men of flesh and blood.
Using 3114BC as a starting point simplifies the dating of the events of Maya history. At Tikal, all the engraved dates that have been found fall between AD292 and 869.
Maya mathematicians mainly counted in multiples of 20. Each Maya year, or tun, contained 18 months of 20 days each, and another five ’unlucky days’. Years were grouped into katun, or 20-years period; baktun, or 400 year periods; and so on up to the alautun, a period of more than 63 million modern years.
Until the deciphering of the stelae, the names and deeds of Tikal’s rulers were surrounded by uncertainty. A puzzling gap of more than a century in the erection of stelae at Tikal, falling between 557 and 682, has not been explained. In 562, Caracol a city subordinate to Tikal’s arch enemy, Calakmul- inflicted a defeat on Tikal. It was not until 672 that Tikal began to regain its former importance, and under the leadership of Hasaw Chan K’wail, Calakmul was eventually defeated in 695. Hasaw guided Tikal to the peak of its power.

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