Mayan calendar only part of rich legacy

2012-12-18 12:24
Maya water-blessing ceremony. (Luis Perez, AFP)

Maya water-blessing ceremony. (Luis Perez, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Guatemala City - The most precise and sophisticated calendar ever created is only one of the legacies of the ancient Maya, who also left their mark on the arts, architecture and cooking, experts say.

The Mayan "Long Count" calendar says an era of more than 5 000 years ends on 21 December - doomsday for some but a reason to rejoice for many others in Mexico and central America, where the civilisation once flourished.

Millions of tourists are expected in the region on Friday to celebrate with fireworks, concerts and other spectacles held at more than three dozen archaeological sites.

"The Mayan calendar is not just a matter of counting seconds, minutes and hours," Guatemalan anthropologist Alvaro Pop, a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told AFP.

The calendar also represents a model showing "the movements of celestial bodies and the way it affects human life in a cyclical manner", Pop explained.

That expertise enabled the ancient civilisation to detect the influence of celestial bodies on tides, births and plants, he noted.

But the contributions of the ancient civilisation - which reached its peak between the years 250 and 900 - far transcend their understanding of the stars, touching on everything from architecture to textiles to food.

The Mayas were the first to grow corn, about 3 000 years ago. Today, it remains the main staple in cuisines across the region.

The Mayas were also among the first to use and grow cocoa and, according to some, they came up with the idea of chewing chicle, a natural gum from a regional tropical evergreen tree and the precursor to chewing gum.

The Mayas and their descendants, notably in Guatemala, are also known for their multi-coloured fabrics, which "represent the most beautiful and explosive expression of life on the continent and in the world", according to Pop.

Their civilisation is also noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas.

In total, the Mayas spoke 36 languages throughout their history and in different regions. Many of these, which feature very elaborate grammatical structures, are still spoken in indigenous communities.

The Popol Vuh, the Mayan holy book, is the most concrete example of that rich linguistic heritage. The mythological book explains the creation of the world, particularly of the Quiche people, one of the many Mayan ethnic groups.

According to Costa Rican anthropologist Ana Cecilia Arias, Mayan architects, who built imposing pyramids, and their descendants also made significant contributions, notably by helping design churches in the region.

Today the ruins of major urban and religious centres such as Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, Tikal in Guatemala, Copan in Honduras and Tazumal in El Salvador stand as shining examples of Mayan architectural knowhow.

Perhaps the more important legacy of the Mayas is human - millions of ethnic Mayan descendants today live in central America, mainly in Guatemala and Mexico.

Most try to maintain the customs and traditions inherited from their illustrious ancestors even though they are often mired in poverty and face social exclusion.

Read more on:    guatemala

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Millions of plastic particles in our food!

Scientists and researchers believe that almost five million tons of plastic is dumped in the oceans every year and it’s affecting our food.



Plastic on your plate
Prince George the green prince?
Lean, green, drifiting machine
One man's $1 million vision for an eco Africa

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts

The Leo moon adds an element of drama and entertainment. A significant person that you may consult or confide in may play more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.