Mayan Model

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“Mayan civilization” was never an empire in the traditional sense. The Egyptian, Ottoman, Aztec, Mughal, Roman, and British Empires were by the book “empires” – according to the dictionary – “an extensive group of states or countries under a single supreme authority, formerly especially an emperor or empress.”

‍No, the “Mayans” were an experimental civilization more reflective of a distributed collection of independent projects than of a monolithic empire.

‍Mayan civilization began as a loose collection of villages in the lowlands of the Yucatan Peninsula circa 2,000 B.C. Unlike that of its neighbors in the highlands, Mayan geography lent itself to dispersion of cities which became experts at cultivating terraced agriculture in their tropical climate.

‍The Maya developed the most advanced written language of the region in the form of glyphs. They invented “monumental architecture”, characterized by the construction of massive pyramids and temples for astronomical and religious purposes. They invented two calendar systems, advanced mathematics, and some of the most accurate pre-telescope astronomy in the world.

‍And they did all this while remaining decentralized. They were never all brought together under a unified ruler. A consequence of this decentralization was the maintenance of numerous dialects across the region: Tzeltal was spoken in the western part of the peninsula, and is still spoken by hundreds of thousands of people today. Kaqchikel is closley related to the Tz’utujil languages. It’s more prominently spoken in the western part of the peninsula, and like Tzeltal, counts hundreds of thousands of modern day speakers. K’iche’ is related to Kaqchikel and was spoken in the central highlands. It has become the second most widely spoken language in modern Mexico, with millions of speakers. Some local Mexican governments in modern-day Mexico are even starting to push for higher literacy by teaching these languages to children at school.

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