There is a lot to say about this big country's history. This time I will only mention a few pre Colombian events that had an impact on the Maya.
Agriculture started late (6500 BC, 300 km south east of Mexico City) and developed slowly, the first pottery appearing around 2300 BC. The earliest traces of civilisation, dated 1200 BC, were found at San Lorenzo near Veracruz on the Gulf coast, where the Olmec flourished until 900 BC. The Olmec were the inventors of many memes(units of culture), that spread throughout mezo-america such as the feathered serpent, the man-jaguar rain god, base 20 arithmetic, the long count calendar and glyph writing.
The Olmec influence gave rise to the Zapotec culture of Monte Alban near Oaxaca around 300 BC, and a century later, to the Iztapan culture on the Mexico - Guatemala border near the Pacific coast, that is thought to have transmitted Olmec memes to the Maya tribes long established in Guatemala and the Yucatan peninsula. Olmec memes are also found in the great Teotihuacan Empire that developed 50 km northeast of Mexico City from the time of Christ to about 600 AD when it was destroyed. Around 400 AD, the Teotihuacan empire spread south as far as the Guatemalan highlands where it had a profound influence on Maya architecture.
During all this time, the civilised settlements were subjected to raids by less developed "wild" tribes from the northwest, collectively called the Chichimecs (meaning savages). After the fall of Teotihuacan, some of the Chichimec called Toltec absorbed Teotihuacan culture and founded Tula which became powerful in the 10th century. Internal conflicts between followers of the war god Tezcatlipoca and followers of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent led to the expulsion of the latter who migrated to the Yucatan peninsula where they overcame the Maya, were absorbed by them and became their elite in the 11th century.
Finally, another group of Chichmec tribes called the Aztec must be mentioned. They founded their capital Tenochtitlan on lake Mexico around 1350 and were the dominant power when the Spanish conquistadors arrived but their power did not extend over the Maya.
The Mayas were enriched by these powerful Olmec, Teotihuacan and Toltec influences which they absorbed without loosing their language and identity. This link will take you to a page on the history of the Maya nation seen through their archaeological monuments.
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Recent architecture differs as one goes from Guatemala to Belize and to Mexico but traditional Maya houses are the same all over.
I had not been in Mexico for eight years I was surprised to see how modern Chetumal was because the other Central American cities I had just visited had not changed much in the same period.
Of course the first thing I did was to visit the museum.
The "Chacmool" figure that is so common in the Northern Maya Area is typical of the Mexican style sculpture introduced by the Toltec invasion in the early post-classic period. The reclining Chacmool holds a vessel on his stomach to receive the hearts of sacrificed humans or other offerings. Chacmools are only messengers between the priests and the gods and have nothing to do with the Maya rain god Chaac.
Now that I am in Mexico, it's time to insert some photos of Palenque that I took in March 1993.
Here is Palenque's famous Temple of the Inscriptions as seen from the tower of the Palace.
Below left, the hidden staircase that leads to the crypt, deep in the heart of the Temple of the Inscriptions.
Below right, the great sculpted slab covering Lord Pacal's tomb in the crypt (in a raised position).
And now, here is The Palace seen from the top of the Temple of the Inscriptions.
This last photo, taken from the tower of Palenque's Palace, shows the Temple of the Cross on the left and the Temple of the Sun on the right. Note the roof combs that make the temples appear taller.
I was impressed by Mexico's progress. This might have been one of the better busses but I saw none of the broken down wrecks and second hand school busses that were as common here 8 years ago as they still are in some parts of Central America.
My purpose in visiting Yucatan this year was to get a better feeling of the Maya civilisation by seeing more of the ruins they left behind.
Ticul was an overnight stop on my way to Musa where I joined an organised tour that was the most convenient way to visit several Puuc Maya sites
This great church dedicated to San Antonio de Padua was worth a shot. Saint Anthony of Padua is only a saint but he has a specialised function just as the various Mayan gods had (in this case, of finding lost objects).
Muna was also surprisingly clean and modern.
A friendly couple in the Muna market.
This three part composite is not perfect but it can give you a good idea of what Labná's "Palacio" looks like.
Here is a view of the Palace from a distance along the "Sache" or ceremonial road linking the north and south groups of building on the Labná site.
This monumental arch shows the intricate detail of the Late Classic Maya Puuc style.
The temple called "El Mirador" has fared better than the pyramid that supports it.
This small temple is another fine example of the geometric lattice work of the Puuc style.
This photo reveals that the mosaic like stone facing of the Puuc style is just decorative, the load being borne by the concrete agglomerate behind.
The monumental three storied Great Palace of Sayil contains almost 100 rooms. The use of columns reveals the influence of Teotihuacan
This is just the site keepers house but it is interesting to note that this style of construction is and had been the same all over the Maya for hundreds if not thousands of years.
The comb of Sayil's Mirador is badly weathered but it is still higher than the building it is supposed to augment.
Here is an overall view of the Palacio and the Pirámide de los Mascarones on the right.
Close up we see a characteristic Puuc element, doorways bisected by a column.
Just past the Pirámide de Los Mascarones we come upon the ruined backside of the Palacio de Los Mascarones also known as Codz Poop.
The front side of Codz Poop is covered with a mosaic of some 300 masks of the Maya rain god Chaac.