Saturday, 07 June 2008 15:29

History of Mayan Civilization Tikal

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History per se is never accurate. The only real account we have of history is what is left by opinion. This is especially true in the realm of Mayan history, where the most elaborate accounts of history are sourced from unskilled archaeologists, opinionated historians, inaccurate translations, biased Spanish Conquistador scripts.

Other than such archaeologists, historians, and scripts, we are left with eroding hieroglyphics that aren’t always decipherable, even by those that speak one or two of over 30 dialects of Mayan. Thus, the following account, as with any historical account of Mayan history, should be read with a bit a constructive and inquisitive skepticism. Don’t take our word for it, seek the truth, or at least something close to it.

The Period: Classic

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Classic Maya culture developed in three regions in Mesoamerica. By far the most important and most complete urban developments occurred in the lowlands in the "central region" of southern Guatemala. This region is a drainage basin about sixty miles long and twenty miles wide and is covered by tropical rain forest; the Mayas, in fact, are only one of two peoples to develop an urban culture in a tropical rainforest.

The principal city in this region was Tikal, but the spread of urbanization extended south to Honduras; the southernmost Mayan city was Copan in northern Honduras. In the Guatemalan highlands to the north, Mayan culture developed less fully. The highlands are more temperate and seem to have been the main suppliers of raw materials to the central urban centers. The other major region of Mayan development was the Yucatan peninsula making up the southern and eastern portions of modern-day Mexico. This is a dry region and, although urban centers were built in this region, including Chichen Itza and Uxmal (pronounced "Oosh-mal"), most scholars believe that this was a culturally marginal area. After the abandonment of the Classic Mayan cities, the Yucatán peninsula became the principal region of a new, synthetic culture called Toltec-Mayan which was formed when Toltecs migrating from the north integrated with indigenous Maya peoples.


Tikal, pronounced, “teeKhal” is the second largest of the ancient ruined cities of the Mayan World civilization, second only to Calakmul. Located in El Petén, Guatemala, where regions are distinguished by departments rather than states, Tikal has recently become on of Guatemla’s most sought after tourist destination. Near the cities of Flores and Santa Elena Tikal is also one of the best preserved Mayan archaeological sites in South America alongside Chichen Itza and Machu pichu.

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It is suggested that Tikal’s name derives from the word, Ti-akal, a Mayan place name meaning "At the Reservoir.Differences in Roman spelling aside, the name could simply be a hybrid of the original Proto-Mayan word. The term, nonetheless, refers to the several large and partially artificial water basins found near the center of the ruins.


As one of the major cultural and population centers in Maya civilization Tikal’s monumental architecture dates to the 4th century BC, when it reached its apex during the Classic Period ca. 200 AD to 900 AD. During which time, according to some sources, the site dominated the Maya region politically.It is debated as to whether the Maya of the region ever had contact with indigenous population. Hieroglyphics in Palenque and Chichen Itza indicate that there may have been a mixture of cultures between the Mixteca, Atzecs of Cental Mexico and the Maya of Chiapas, creating distinct subcultures of a former pacifist, or non-sacrifice practicing civilization.

There is also evidence that Tikal was even conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century A.D. Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century.

Unlike the its Mayan cousin, Gran Acropolis Ednza in Campeche, Mexico, Tikal had no water other than what was collected from rainwater and stored in underground storage facilities called chultuns. Archaeologists working in Tikal during the last century utilized the ancient underground facilities to store water for their own use. The absence of springs, rivers, and lakes in the immediate vicinity of Tikal highlights a prodigious feat: building a major city with only supplies of stored seasonal rainfall.

Howler Monk...
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Tikal prospered with intensive agricultural techniques, which were far more advanced than the slash & burn methods originally theorized by archeologists. The reliance on seasonal rainfall left Tikal vulnerable to prolonged drought, which is now thought to have played a major role in the Classic Maya Collapse.

Other theories suggest that Tikal was never a major power in the Mayan world, but a subject of the empire civilization established by El Caracol and Calakmul. And even other sources indicate that Tikal was a dominating influence in the southern Maya. We do know, however, that Tikal was often at war and inscriptions tell of alliances and conflict with other Maya states, including UaxactunTikal Temple Caracol, and Calakmul.The site was defeated at the end of the Early Classic by Caracol, who rose to take Tikal's place as the paramount center in the southern Maya lowlands. It appears another defeat was suffered at the hands of Dos Pilas during the middle 7th century, with the possible capture and sacrifice of Tikal's ruler at the time.

Similar to the majority of archaeological sites in the Mayan World, only a fraction of the structures in Tikal have been fully excavated. With heavy tourism in and out of Tikal almost year-round and poor funds excavations have not made significant advances even after decades of archaeological work. The most prominent of the structures that have been excavated are Temples I - VI, each of which supports a temple structure on their summits. Some of these pyramids are over 60 meters high (200 feet). They were numbered sequentially during the early survey of the site.

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