Societies and Customs

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The Mayan culture continues to intrigue modem society. One of the great centers of Mayan culture was Chichen-Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula. Life at Chichen-Itza was hardly immutable. Roughly between 500 and 1400, a site of numerous temples, a huge ball court, and an astronomical observatory burgeoned in the tropical jungle. The Maya abandoned the site twice, and around 1200 the Toltecs from the north invaded the area, adding their religion and architecture to the Mayan concepts. Anthropologists and archeologists have been meticulous in studying the ruins at Chichen-Itza to discover the customs of this ancient society.
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What made life viable for the Maya at Chichen-Itza were the cenotes, or wells. The name chicken shows the importance of the wells to the society. Chi meant “mouths” in Mayan, and chen meant “wells.” These wells provided a source of water for a community composed of a hierarchy of slaves, farmers, hunters, merchants, warriors, priests, and nobles. Each group had its special role to play to keep the community functioning. The cenotes also hold a clue to the religious rituals of the Maya: several bodies have been found in the wells. Human sacrifice, though generally considered heinous by today’s standards, was a part of Mayan religious practices. Other artifacts found in the cenotes include jewelry and dolls. The Maya had several gods, and the sacrifices of young women and objects may have been used to quell the wrath of a rain god or pay homage to the god of maize. Because the gods controlled the weather and therefore the food supply, it was essential for the people to keep the gods happy.
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Religious beliefs were also manifested in the architecture and games of the Maya. An impressive and ominous area at Chichen-Itza is the Great Ball Court, the largest found at a Mayan site. The ball-
game was played between two teams and seems to have involved keeping a rubber ball from touching the ground without using the hands. The game was over when the ball went through a scoring ring attached to the walls of the court. The winner of the game did not receive the prize people today would expect. The captain of the winning team would offer his head to the leader of the losing team for decapitation . It was part of the Mayan religious beliefs that dying quickly was a great honor, and they obviously felt that the winner of this contest deserved such an honor.
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The Maya were a highly advanced society, demonstrated in their complex temple designs, accurate calendar, and elaborate artwork. The Maya continue to fascinate the world with their customs and achievements.

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