Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Research Paper Discussion

By Sean Williamson

The last blog of the semester! Time has flown by! Recently I have been working on a research paper for Dr. Davey’s ARC 532 class. This paper involved 20 pages of research of the city in Yucatan Mexico known as Chichén Itza. With all the time I spent working on this paper, I thought it would be worth discussing a little bit.

Within the northern region of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico on a limestone plateau lies the relics of Chichén Itzá, once one of the Maya’s most powerful cities. The people responsible for the development of this 5 square mile city are the Mayans (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The Maya people were skilled farmers and developed a very sophisticated written language, with some historians thinking it may have been the first written language native to the Americas (History). A well-ordered social class system was also developed by the Maya’s with trade throughout a network of cities that went as far north as Central Mexico and as far south as Panama (History). They were also expert mathematicians, with their numbering system including the concept of zero, an idea unknown to the ancient Greeks (History). The Maya used their mathematical knowledge along with celestial observations to finesse a calendar created by the Olmecs (a culture from the Mexican Gulf Coast) and to create monuments to observe and commemorate movements of the sun, the moon, and Venus (History). Spectacular examples of these monuments can still be seen at Chichén Itzá.

Chichén Itzá's architecture includes pyramids, an astronomical observatory, platforms, wells, ball courts, plazas, and residential areas. Its mammoth Maya-Toltec style architecture was developed largely during the Terminal Classic, a period beginning around 800 A.D. and extending possibly as late as 1050 A.D. (Aveni, 2004). There are numerous structures at Chichén Itza that incorporate certain calendrical and astronomical principles into their architectural plans (Herrera, 2008). One example of the Maya’s incorporating astronomical principles into their architectural plans is the Pyramid of Kukulcan, which was recently voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (Herrera, 2008). This mystery of the Mayan culture brings an estimated 1.2 million tourists to Chichén Itza each year (Cobos).

The city has been traditionally divided into two distinct parts and periods, even though there is some overlap both in time and design (Cartwright, M.). The earliest, to the south, is native Maya dating to the Epiclassic period (800-1000 AD) with buildings displaying both the distinct 'Puuc' architectural style and Maya hieroglyphs (Cartwright, M.). The plan is more spread out than the north part of the city and, constructed on a roughly north-south axis, may reflect the course of the Xtoloc Cenote water source. The second part of the city has been traditionally dated to 1000-1200 AD and is more mysterious, creating one of the most continuous debates in Mesoamerican archaeology (Cartwright, 2014). Built in the Florescent style and along a more ordered plan, it displays many hallmarks of the Toltec civilization, leading scholars to believe that they either conquered Chichén Itza as they expanded their empire from their capital Tula over 1,000 km away, or there was some sort of cultural and trade sharing between the two areas (Cartwright, 2014). Some architecture and relief sculptures found at both sites include warrior columns, quetzal-feathered rattlesnakes, the clothing of subjects, chacmools (sacrificial basins in the form of a reclining person), atlantides (support columns in the form of standing males), the representation of certain animals, a tzompantli (sacrificial skull rack), Tlaloc (the rain god) incense burners, and personal names represented by glyphs which are present at both sites but which are not Mayan (Cartwright, 2014).

Reference Page

Aveni, A., Milbrath, S., & Lope, P. (2004). Chichén Itzá's Legacy in the Astronomically Oriented Architecture of Mayapán. The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Cartwright, M. (2014). Chichén Itza. Retrieved April 23, 2015, from

Chichén Itzá. (2014). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, from

Cobos, R., & Moll, R. Ancient Climate and Archaeology: Uxmal, Chichén Itza, and Their Collapse at the End of ´ the Terminal Classic Period. 56-71.

Herrera, A. (2008). Chichén Itza. Oas.

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