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Mystery of the Mayans for Kids

Mayan ruins in Guatemala

The Mayans and the Aztecs are often studied at the same time during history classes but today there are still many Mayan descendants. Many of these people continue to live in the lands where their ancestors once walked. There are no known descendants of the ancient Aztec society.

Did you know that the Mayan civilization created an extremely advanced written language during pre-Columbian times?  Some of the Mayan words remain a major part of our modern lives. Whenever you say or read the words ‘cocoa' and ‘shark' you have the ancient Mayans to thank. They were the first civilization to coin these two words.

The Maya people also developed some extremely advanced mathematic theories, elaborate calendars and were even famous for their artistic endeavours. Colourful paintings, murals and creative sculptures have been discovered by archaeologists.

Today there has been a lot of debate about the Mayan long count calendar and what it predicts for the year ‘2012'. Chances are you have heard a little about the ‘2012 Maya Prophecies'. Before you become alarmed let's take a look at the facts behind the fantasies.

Based on Mayan beliefs and myths these modern times are the 4th in a long series of world cycles. The long count calendar essentially shows that this 4th cycle will end on the 20th of December, 2012. Contrary to popular thought this does not mean that Earth will be destroyed in a cataclysmic event, but it just shows the start of another cycle. In other words, welcome 2013!

Kids frequently occupied a place of importance in Maya culture. Even many hundreds of years ago appearance was very important, especially for Maya children. Some of the ‘beautiful' attributes that were forced onto children were not what we typically think of being attractive.

For instance infants would have their forehead pressed between boards. This would create a wide, flat forehead which the wealthier Mayans felt was a sign of extreme beauty and wisdom.

Other parents would dangle colourful objects over the face of their baby to capture their attention. Then they would hold the objects at an angle that would force the infants to cross their eyes. Continually repeating this visual training exercise would result in permanently crossed eyes. This was another physical characteristic in children that appealed to the Mayas.

Why crossed eyes were considered to be so special is still a mystery.

The names of children were decided according to the day on which they were born. The Mayan priests dictated these names for male and female children and there were special names assigned to each day in the year.

Human Sacrifice -True

Yes, the Mayans did engage in the practice of human sacrifice. These rituals were tied to the religious beliefs shared by these people but sometimes human sacrifice was used as part of a medical treatment or a special ceremony.

Healers of Body, Spirit and Teeth

In the ancient Maya culture it was an accepted fact that medicine was a combination of religious rituals as well as scientific principles. The shamans believed that they were a living bridge that connected the real world to the world inhabited by spirits.  Naturally the gods, the undead spirits and mystic practices were all considered to be important elements that had to be included in any form of medical treatment.

These early doctor/healer/medicine men discovered how to set broken bones, perform complex surgeries and learned how to create sutures using strands of human hair.

There were even dentists who treated patients during the early Mayan years. These people discovered how to use iron particles as fillings for dental cavities. False teeth and dental bridges were also being made, and many of these were fashioned from semi-precious stones such as turquoise.

Losing your Head with Pitz

A favourite sport practiced in ancient Maya times was ‘pitz'. This ball game was played on a large court and the ball was roughly the same size as today's soccer ball.  It is thought that some of these ‘pitz' games were actually played with human heads and skulls. In fact the practice of decapitation is linked to the sport known as ‘pitz'. Guess the losers had more to worry about than the final score.

Mysterious End to Mayan Reign

Today no one really knows what happened to bring the reign of the Mayan Empire to an end. Some experts feel that overpopulation and foreign invaders played major roles in the collapse of the Mayas during the 8th and 9th centuries. The truth is still shrouded in mystery but maybe one day You will discover the key that unlocks the Mayan secrets.



This is an original news article © The Kids Window

One in a series of articles about Geography written for children.

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