New Discoveries About Mayan Civilization

October 5, 2018

Maya civilization has fascinated historians and archaeologists. While Europeans were dying of the plague because they had no sewage system, the Mayas had a complex society with interconnected cities and an advanced knowledge of the universe. Yet, like most other ancient societies, they were dismissed by European colonizers as uncivilized. For that reason, it has taken until now for researchers to put serious effort and resources into studying Maya archeological sites.


In September 2018, Science News released the findings of an investigation led by American archaeologists in northern Guatemala. Through the analysis of aerial laser maps and ground excavations of over 10 Maya sites, the research team found roads and large-scale defensive structures which prove the Mayas had extensive political systems even several hundred years before the zenith of their society.


“These new discoveries are exciting for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Maria Masucci, Associate Dean for Faculty in Arts and Science and Director of the Archaeology minor. “With each new revelation and resulting re-evaluation of previous models the accomplishments and even earlier complexity of these societies we group as the Maya becomes clearer and clearer.”


The evidence found in the archaeological sites challenged the traditional view held by researchers that Classic-era Mayas relied on food from slash-and-burn farming. In fact, some scientists have even argued that this practice contributed to the civilization’s downfall. However, the recent findings show drainage channels and terraces controlled water flow, proving the ancient Mayas took good care of the environment.


Masucci stated, “So many of our past models were built on the then available data, lack of appreciation of native peoples of the regions and assumptions based on modern failures to successfully and sustainably utilize tropical forest environments.”


The students of the Introduction to Archaeology class have been studying different methods of investigation and the importance of studying ancient civilizations. “[When] I read the article my first impression about it was that, even now, with our latest tech we still don’t know what is what,” said Sunghah Choi (‘21), a student in the class. “I want to know more [when] more investigation is done in the future.”Another student in the class, Abby Brickner (‘21) expressed her amazement at the recent findings, saying, “History is always a work in progress.”  


The Maya people are still alive today, with over 6 million people living in southeastern Mexico, Honduras, Belize and Guatemala. According to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the early Maya established sedentary communities in the Pacific Coast regions around 1800 BCE. Just like the people, the legacy of the Mayas is still alive. They developed a highly sophisticated and accurate calendar and invented the mathematical concept of zero. These recent findings only prove we have much more to learn from them.

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