Monday, December 17, 2012

Periods of Ancient Maya History

Author's note: My resources do not always corroborate on dates and facts of these periods. To keep down a potential ideological issue, I have stuck with each resource's use of BC and AD or BCE and CE when referencing their dates. Updates will undoubtedly be necessary as time goes on. Also, I plan to expand each of the periods to have their own post.

In the course of studying the ancient Maya, archaeologists have formed a classification of different periods of change and/or development. Among the most resources, these periods are the Paleo-Indian (Lithic) Period, Archaic Period, Preclassic (Formative) Period, Classic Period and Postclassic Period, with some of these periods having sub-periods. This post touches on highlights of each period.

Paleoindian Period
People crossing from the Old World to the New World is a major feature of the Paleoindian period, which is sometimes called the Lithic Period. It is currently thought that the migrants lived in nomadic groups, traveling and hunting large animals such as the wild horses of the time as well as mammoths. Different theories exist as to how people got to the New World: one involves people crossing the Bering Strait on a land bridge, while another thinks it's possible the travelers used boats.

The dates of the Paleoindian Period according to Dr. Kuang Yu Chen, started around 20,000 BC and ended around 8000 BC. Handbook To Life In The Ancient Maya World states the period started about 12,000 BCE and ended around 7000 BCE.

Archaic Period
Due to a change in climate that had been occurring -- the ice was melting --, and over-hunting of large animals, ancient peoples began to change their lifestyle. People began to hunt smaller animals and work more on their agricultural skills -- including the domestication of such things as corn, tomatoes and chilies. Completely sedentary villages began to occur in this period along with the arts of weaving and pottery.

Society changed as well in the Archaic Period. Around 1400 BC a culture currently called the Isthmian culture was in place from the Gulf Coast area in modern day Veracruz to the Pacific coast area that became part of the ancient Maya world.

According to Dr. Kuang Yu Chen the Archaic Period started around 8000 BC and ended in 2000 BC. According to Handbook, the Archaic Period started around 7000 BCE and ended around 1200 BCE.

Preclassic Period
Also known as the Formative Period, the Preclassic Period is a period that archaeologists have split into the Early Preclassic, Middle Preclassic and Late Preclassic. In the Early Preclassic, the Olmec civilization developed out of the Isthmian culture.

In the Middle Preclassic the Olmec civilization continued to flourish and then decline. Meanwhile, the Maya civilization developed to be notably distinct.

In the Late Preclassic, -- in the southern and central lowlands -- the ancient Maya society pyramid started to develop, and communities whose center were ceremonial structures began. The late Preclassic was also the time when the ancient Maya adopted the Zapotec writing system. Also in the Late Preclassic, the population increases to its maximum in both the communities of the Guatemalan highlands and in Pacific coast communities.

Dr. Kuang Yu Chen states that the Preclassic Period (which he calls the Formative Period) started around 2000 BC and ended around 250 AD. Handbook states the period started around 1200 BCE and ended around 250 AD. Handbook further elaborates, saying the Early Preclassic began around 1200 BCE and ended around 1000 BCE, the Middle Preclassic began around 1000 BCE and ended around 300 BCE, and the Late Preclassic began around 300 BCE and ended around 250 CE. A page -- on a section of Wesleyan University's website titled Unaahil B'aak The Temples of Palenque -- states however, that the Early Preclassic began around 2500 BCE and ended 1000 BCE, the Middle Preclassic began around 1000 BCE and ended 400 BCE and the Late Preclassic started around 400 BCE and ended around 200 CE.

Classic Period
Though sometimes described as a golden age of the ancient Maya civilization, other sources say the Classic Period was a time where the ancient Maya were both building as well as setting up stelae -- with others saying it was when they used the Long Count in their monuments. The Classic Period has two sub-divisions, the Early Classic and the Late Classic. The split between the Early and Late Classic is because of political turmoil that happened around 600 AD, as well as artistic changes that occurred around that time.

In the Early Classic Period, cities located along the Pacific coast decline. In the Late Classic the population increases in the southern and central lowlands, more and more cities are built in the southern lowlands and warfare increases.

Kuan Yu Chen states the Classic Period began around 250 AD and ended around 900 AD. Handbook states that this period began around 250 CE and ended around 900 CE. Handbook also states that the Early Classic started around 250 CE and ended around 600 CE, the Late Classic started around 600 and ended in 900. The Wesleyan University page states the Early Classic started around 200 CE and ended 600 CE, but does agree with Handbook as to the dates of the Late Classic.

Terminal Classic Period
In the time of transition known as the Terminal Classic Period -- which is, generally speaking, the last century of the Classic Period -- the cities in the Petén region decline, and at the same time something Handbook calls "pan-Mesoamerican culture" becomes dominant in the Yucatan Peninsula. Also during the Terminal Classic, monuments no longer use the Long Count.

Handbook  states the Terminal Classic is both part of the Classic and Postclassic Period. According to this book, it started around 800 CE and ended around 1000 CE. A study published August 24, 2012 titled "Classic Period collapse of the Central Maya Lowlands: Insights about human–environment relationships for sustainability" agrees with Handbook on the dates for the Terminal Classic.

Postclassic Period
The Postclassic Period is divided into the Early Postclassic and the Late Postclassic.  The Early Postclassic society was not as centered on the conquests of rulers as the Classic Period culture had been, and large systems of trade between cities existed in the northern lowlands.

In the Late Postclassic, cities began to be built to be fortified, public monuments became less common and the Aztec Empire started to influence the Maya word -- even taking tribute from places in the highlands of Guatemala.

Dr. Kuang Yu Chen states this period lasted from around 900 AD until 1521 and Handbook agrees with him. According to the page on Wesleyan University's website, the Postclassic Period is split into the Early Postclassic (which lasted from around 900 CE to 1200 CE) and the Late Postclassic (which lasted from 1200 CE until 1492 CE)


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