Mayans Practiced Head Binding to be More Beautiful
Attempting to bend and shape your baby’s skull into something more pleasing would likely get you arrested today, because it’s child cruelty. However, the practice of head binding in order to elongate the shape of the human skull is a practice that spans across many cultures. It goes back at least 10,000 years. The shape of the skull was a sign of status, with the higher status individuals with the more prominent deformations. It is debated among archeologists as to exactly why they pursued this form of beauty. Some say they were emulating the maize god, whose head was the shape of corn. Others say it was meant to imitate a jaguar’s skull. Whatever the reason, it was an instruction from the gods, that they might appear more noble.
One of the markers of modern technology is the use of rubber, from tires to ear buds. The Mayans were way ahead of the curb on many things, and this includes the invention of rubber. This took 3,000 years before it was re-invented by Charles Goodyear in the 19th century. It was made from local latex, and used in the rubber ball in Mayan sports. Although no physical specimens of them still exist to confirm this, the Spanish explorers who encountered the Maya reported back that they wore rubber sandals. It’s likely they were far more comfortable than anything made in Europe out of wood and leather, hence why it was one of the particular things the Spanish reported back on. Perhaps the most useful thing the Maya also used were rubber bands.
It’s never safe to build your civilization next to a volcano. The Mayans had to learn that lesson the hard way during the El Chichón eruption in 540 AD. The sky turned black with smoke, blocking the sunlight. That would not have been good for crops, but that would have been the least of their problems. The smoke from the volcano would have been filled with microscopic pieces of glass. Inhaling it would have resulted in irritation and microscopic cuts in their lungs. Even if you survived the initial eruption, the sulfur thrown into air would have blocked out so much sunlight as to decrease global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius! Crop yields would have been devastated. The poor harvests resulted in both the Maya and Inca revolting against their rulers. This was the beginning of the Maya Dark Age. For 100 years, no buildings were constructed.
Countless history nerds mourn the loss of the Library of Alexandria. However, the true History Chad will be shedding a tear over the burning of the Mayan Codices. One could easily condemn Bishop Friar Diego de Landa (1524-1579) as one of the most evil and ignorant men in history. His zealous persecution of the Mayan religion through torture and death by burning, in spite of the fact that the Church actually forbade abuse of the natives, drove many Maya to commit suicide. He nonetheless was convinced he was saving lives, as the Maya were still practicing human sacrifice in their rituals. De Landa himself documented a time when he burned about a hundred Mayan texts he believed satanic in front of a local community. He remarked about how much sorrow and regret was expressed by the Maya, and how strange he thought it was.
Modern technology truly is amazing. One of these technologies is something called LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection And Ranging. LiDAR uses laser pulses to map areas of terrain to exquisite detail. What’s especially useful is that it can see through foliage,making it perfect for places like a rain forest. Indiana Jones would have taken a lifetime to discover what can now be found in minutes. The use of this technology is what led to the discovery of a previously unknown Mayan city in Guatemala. This city is over 2,000 years old, and spanned for a huge 650 square miles. Previous research had concluded that the population was very small. The discovery of this massive city with canals, reservoirs, and ball courts, showed that the population was much higher and denser than originally thought. Modern technology is helping us connect to the beauty of the past.
No One Knows What Caused the Downfall of the Mayan Civilization
It remains a mystery to this day why the Maya Civilization declined and died off. The collapse did not happen everywhere and all at once, however. Mayan civilization appears to have had many local ups and downs, but the common pattern was that cities were eventually abandoned and lost. Why this happened exactly is a mystery. Scientists have theorized all sorts of causes from warfare, famine, overpopulation, trade disputes, drought, and environmental degradation. Though as some cities fell, others rose to prominence. Most of the northern cities were populated when the Spanish came and eventually conquered the Maya. Many Maya cities would be lost and forgotten until their rediscovery in the 19th century. The fact that the Maya still exist as a people and carry on their traditions today despite all the disaster and tragedy is a testament to both the sophistication and spirit of their people.
Mayans were badd asses. Even in the face of a technologically superior enemy that may have seemed almost supernatural, they refused to surrender. The warfare between the Spanish and the Maya lasted from 1517 to 1697. That’s 180 years! Imagine waking up one day and knowing you are fighting a war your father and grandfather fought, and it was a war your children and grandchildren would also fight. One might think that lack of political unity would be a weakness for the Maya against the Spanish. In reality, it was this division of power that made the Maya so hard to conquer. There was no single capital city to storm and take over. Whenever you conquered one Mayan Kingdom, there were still more who had not yet begun to fight. Nojpetén, located on an island in Lake Petén, was the last Mayan City to fall.
Sometimes old civilizations die hard. The Maya are still alive today. Though no longer at the height of glory, there are still 8 million people of Mayan ancestry who live throughout Central America. Both the Mayan people and modern researchers work passionately to try and recover as much of the Maya’s lost cultural past as they can. The Mayan language is even taught today in schools. There is hope among some researchers that ancient Mayan medicine will prove useful in curing modern diseases. Some of the Maya live as close to their traditions as they can. Others have decided to integrate into modern society. Mayan culture is attracting more and more attention and appreciation. It’s truly inspiring how far the Maya have come in the face of so many centuries of persecution and suppression. Perhaps one day we can see Mayan culture reborn, thriving in the 21st century.
Most of the Mayan Civilization Remains Underground
Despite being over 40% of the population of Guatemala, people of ethnic Mayan descent still often suffer discrimination for their ancestry. As recently as 1960 to 1996, the Mayan people were subject to genocidal oppression during the Guatemalan Civil War. Scorched earth tactics involving raping, pillaging, destroying crops and cultural artifacts. They killed almost 200,000 people during the war. The oppression of the Maya was done because they were “suppressing communism”. It’s no wonder why the Maya might want to integrate and abandon their heritage, or hide it. However, things are changing. Knowledge of and appreciation for Mayan culture is spreading in the West. Cultural tourism is now a huge part of the Guatemalan economy. This has had a negative effect, however, and traditions are sometimes invented at the expense of authentic ones in order to meet western tourists’ expectations.
You Can Still Experience Mayan Cacao Rituals Today
Since the first mass market chocolates got churned out of Hershey, Pennsylvania, chocolate has been an essential part of the modern western experience. We love chocolate! It is only natural that when someone discovers a culture that shares that love, because we want to know more and dive deeper into their unique and shared experiences. Mayan Cacao ceremonies are a key part of the shaman and yoga communities. They can be found in San Francisco, Portland, New York, and London. These eclectic groups use these ceremonies for meditation, spiritual reflection, and uniting the community. The ceremonies themselves vary. Some involve singing and dancing, others quiet meditation. Some try their best to be as ritually close and authentic as possible to Mayan tradition. Other groups add in other multicultural flares. The historical accuracy may be questionable in most cases, but one can’t deny the natural allure of experiencing spiritual chocolate.