Mesoamerican Culture

Learning about the most fascinating sites around the world made for an interesting class, but one topic actually caused me to go out and research on my own. The Inca, Mayan and ,especially, the Aztec cultures in Mesoamerica. Specifically, there ideologies and views on war. The Aztec capital was, to the Aztec people, the center of the Universe. The Aztec people lives revolved around the fact that they were chosen by the Gods to keep the fifth sun world from ending. Human hearts were what the Gods wanted to stay happy. The rulers would explain all their poor judgments with a story that a deity committed the same sin. I wonder if the rulers of this time were as clueless as the citizens or if they maliciously lied. As a ruler, they were expected to communicate with the Gods. When it was time for the ruler to give a message from the gods, did the rulers simply make up a message? Were drugs involved and the rulers actually believed their message? Or did the rulers truly believe enough to hear a message on their own?

I can’t help but assume that the rulers created a story for power. It seems far too convenient that the Gods chose each civilization to make the ruler happy so he might translate. Perhaps the citizens never bought into it anyway. We know from excavation that their were tribute being made by commoners, but we have no way of knowing if they were by force or choice. It’s entirely possible that the reason rulers were creating so much propaganda (which demonstrated themselves as having a divine right to rule) was because the commoners were forced to give their possessions. It seems more likely, though, that the commoners bought into the religion. There is clear evidence that this was a militaristic society and I’m sure that played its role in the religions stability.

The Aztecs gave meaning to every event, especially war. So, to the Aztecs, when the Spanish conquistadors came with intention to attack it was seen as just another method for tribute to the deities. I don’t think that, since they assumed the Gods needed them to stay alive, the Aztecs would ever realize that they were outmatched. Not to mention that the Spanish brought foreign disease. As they began to be slaughtered by more advanced technology, I can’t imagine that they every admitted defeat.

Mayans Religion: Gods, Animal Spirits and Pyramids

The Mayans religion involved several aspects of nature, astronomy and rituals. Most Gods represented a form in nature, for example, Sun God, Kinih Ahous, or Maize God, Yum Kaax. The Mayans were known for their calenders and astronomical buildings. These were used during their religious rituals. Similar to the Egyptians, the Mayans built Pyramid like temples for religious reasons. The main difference in shape being that the Mayan pyramids have a flat top to build temples on top. The best known pyramid is El Castillo or Temple of Kukulkan in the archaeological site Chichen Itza, in the Mexican state of Yucatan.

The Mayans built two types of pyramids, and one type was meant to be climbed. These pyramids were used during human sacrifices, which would please the Gods. The other type was not to be climbed, or even touched. These pyramids were sacred and often were built with too steep of steps to climb, or a false door. When these pyramids were being used, a priest would use the dangerous steps and get closer to the Gods. Each pyramids usually had two or four staircases, often including a platform between steps near the middle. This platform was likely used during the priest-kings rituals as well.

The Mayan religion was Polytheist, and they worshiped more than 165 Gods. The Gods were human-like. The Gods were born, grew up and died. Gods would do other human like activity that was deemed acceptable behavior. This included: creating, planting and harvesting maize, performing divination, conducting business, fighting wars, forming alliances and intermarrying. This behavior led to the Gods having interrelated jobs within their hierarchy.

The Mayan religion believed that most peoples souls’ were vanquished to spend their afterlives in the underworld. Even the rulers souls’ ended up there. Only those who died at childbirth or were sacrificed would have escaped the underworld. Sacrifice was conducted using blood-letting (ritualized cutting) performed by the community, but run by the priest. The underworld is filled with with evil Gods, represented as jaguars, the symbol of the night. The jaguar was also shown on the Kings helmets.

The Mayans believed that every person had an animal companion who shared their soul. They were called, “Way’ ob”. The Mayan religion told that one could transform into their animal companion. Every King had a jaguar as their animal companion spirit, and were often depicted with jaguar in Mayan art. Most Mayans had one animal companion, but some every powerful Mayan priests could have more than one.

The Female Pharaoh

Being introduced to the culture of a fascinating society such as ancient Egypt has led me to lose several hours to random ‘goggling’ about the subject. I don’t think I could ever cover half the articles that the internet has to offer on even a specific dynasty in Cairo. While fumbling through knowledge I learned about Hatshepsut, the female Pharaoh. She was the sixth Pharaoh in the 18th dynasty. (Wilson, Smithsonian) I was intrigued and went on to learn as much as I could. Hatshepsut had a brother who had the birthright to rule but never did; she was the daughter of Tuthmosis I and Ahmes. Her father apparently ruled for about 12-14 years. This was a time after Akhenaton had ruled, so women had received more power as wives to the Pharaoh. This was a time when women could own land, have positions of power, and inherit from deceased family members. However, most experts believe she was the first women to be Pharaoh and one of few. She married a half brother Thutmose II, who ruled for fifteen years before her and then died. Hatshepsut was a 30 year old widow without a son old enough to become King, so she claimed her thrown. (Biography Channel Website) Technically, she took over as a tradition with her infant son Thutmose III as a co-ruler. She asserted her power by gaining support from followers of her Father. To make sure was respected she was always depicted in traditional King robes, and there is speculation she spread rumors that she was God-like. (Biography Channel Website). Once she deceased, her son Thutmose III succeeded her and destroyed most evidence that she was a ruler. This may be the result of a grudge, but the commonality of destroying your predecessors’ statues leads me to believe it was merely a power play.

In 1903, Howard Carter discovered her sarcophagus in the 20th tomb in the Valley of the Dead (Brown, National Geographic). There were three sarcophagi in the tomb but none contained her mummy. (Brown, National Geographic) Hope seemed lost to find this Queen, who in the grand scheme of Egypt was much more influential than Tutankhamen. Fortunately, after a mummy referred to as KV60a was discovered Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Mummy Project and secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, launched a mission to solve the mystery. A tooth discovered in KV60a was scrutinized by DNA testing and gave enough information to identify KV60a as Hatshepsut! (Brown, National Geographic) Based on the mass amount of statues and shrines she had built for herself it is sad to think that she was almost forgotten. Now she is on display in the Egyptian Museums’ Royal Mummy rooms. (Brown, National Geographic) Plaques proclaim her as “The King Herself” and after thousands of years she has finally been reunited with her extended family!

“Hatshepsut.” 2013. The Biography Channel website. Feb 28 2013, 11:37 http://www.biography.com/people/hatshepsut-9331094.

Brown, Chip. “Hatshepsut.” — National Geographic Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. .

Wilson, Elizabeth B. “Smithsonian.com.” Smithsonian Magazine. N.p., Sept. 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. .

Archaeology

As a college student I’m constantly wondering what affect I could have on the world around me. I consider which major could create the most positive change. Each choice I make has a ripple effect on society. Will I have a family? Does my carbon footprint destroy our environment? Will people remember me after I’m gone? What changes can I make? This never ending flood of notions keeps me on my toes for new experiences that could help out the world. I plan to pursue a career in psychology, which should hopefully modify the world today; however, I could never make a change that helps the world of 3012. Entering this class, I found with myself fascinated with the record keeping career of archaeology. The noble task of attempting to reorganize past civilizations for the future generations must be an extremely rewarding career.

History is the only separation humans have from the animals. Yes, we have a larger frontal cortex, amygdales’ and language skills that animals lack. These factors are subjective; I believe the innate human need to document and tell stories are what caused these evolutionary traits. As humans began to communicate, natural selection kept those who began to inform their young around longer. Eventually, people with spare time such as Heroditus even took the time to write down chronological histories. Without this past knowledge humans could never learn from their mistakes and mature to our higher cognitive state. From story tellers to antiquarians humans have passed down wisdom and learned about past societies.

Archaeologists have the ability to not only see how past generations lived their lives, but to pass on the old ways of thinking. Future generations would have never been able to learn about these civilizations if not for archaeological excavations. Discoveries such as Lucy, a fossil from over a million years ago, have given us an idea of how humans evolved over time. Only archaeologists can learn such astounding facts about human kind. These fossils can support Darwin’s theories. Discoveries about culture can remind us that every human can from the same general background. The astounding resemblance of human kind across the globe can remind us how similar we all are. These lessons can only benefit society, and the continuation of telling stories will help humans learn from past misjudgments’. I only wish my future job could help society advance in such an outstanding, everlasting way, or even learn about how it once evolved.