The myans and aztecs are native American Indian tribes. The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization. The Maya civilization extended throughout the southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and the Yucatan Peninsula states of Quintana Roo,
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to 16th centuries. The Nahuatl words aztecatl (singular) and aztecah (plural) mean "people from Aztlan", a mythological place for the Nahuatl-speaking culture of the time, and later adopted as the word to define the Mexica people. Often the term "Aztec" refers exclusively to the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan (now the location of Mexico City), situated on an island in Lake Texcoco, who referred to themselves as Mexica Tenochca or Cōlhuah Mexica .
Sometimes the term also includes the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan's two principal allied city-states, the Acolhuas of Texcoco and the Tepanecs of Tlacopan, who together with the Mexica formed the Aztec Triple Alliance which controlled what is often known as the "Aztec Empire". In other contexts, Aztec may refer to all the various city states and their peoples, who shared large parts of their ethnic history and cultural traits with the Mexica, Acolhua and Tepanecs, and who often also used the Nahuatl language as a lingua franca. In this meaning it is possible to talk about an Aztec civilization including all the particular cultural patterns common for most of the peoples inhabiting Central Mexico in the late postclassic period.
From the 13th century, the Valley of Mexico was the heart of Aztec civilization: here the capital of the Aztec Triple Alliance, the city of Tenochtitlan, was built upon raised islets in Lake Texcoco. The Triple Alliance formed a tributary empire expanding its political hegemony far beyond the Valley of Mexico, conquering other city states throughout Mesoamerica. At its pinnacle, Aztec culture had rich and complex mythological and religious traditions, as well as reaching remarkable architectural and artistic accomplishments. In 1521 Hernán Cortés, along with a large number of Nahuatl speaking indigenous allies, conquered Tenochtitlan and defeated the Aztec Triple Alliance under the leadership of Hueyi Tlatoani Moctezuma II. Subsequently the Spanish founded the new settlement of Mexico City on the site of the ruined Aztec capital, from where they proceeded with the process of colonizing Central America.
Aztec culture and history is primarily known through archaeological evidence found in excavations such as that of the renowned Templo Mayor in Mexico City; from indigenous bark paper codices; from eyewitness accounts by Spanish conquistadors such as Hernán Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo; and especially from 16th and 17th century descriptions of Aztec culture and history written by Spanish clergymen and literate Aztecs in the Spanish or Nahuatl language, such as the famous Florentine Codex compiled by the Franciscan monk Bernardino de Sahagún with the help of indigenous Aztec informants.
When used about ethnic groups the term "Aztec" refers to several Nahuatl speaking peoples of central Mexico in the postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology, especially the ethnic group that had a leading role in establishing the hegemonic empire based at Tenochtitlan, the Mexica. Other ethnic groups associated with the Aztec empire are the Acolhua and Tepanec ethnic groups and some of the ethnic groups that were incorporated into the empire, and the term is also sometimes used about them. In older usage the term was commonly used about modern Nahuatl speaking ethnic groups, as Nahuatl was previously referred to as the "Aztec language". In recent usage these ethnic groups are rather referred to as the Nahua peoples. Linguistically the term "Aztecan" is still used about the branch of the Uto-Aztecan languages (also sometimes called the yuto-nahuan languages) that includes the Nahuatl language and its closest relatives Pochutec and Pipil.
To the Aztecs themselves the word "aztec" was not an endonym for any particular ethnic group. Rather it was an umbrella term used to refer to several ethnic groups, not all of them Nahuatl speaking, that claimed heritage from the mythic place of origin, Aztlan. In the Nahuatl language "aztecatl" means "person from Aztlan". In 1810 Alexander von Humboldt originated the modern usage of "Aztec" as a collective term applied to all the people linked by trade, custom, religion, and language to the Mexica state and the Triple Alliance. In 1843, with the publication of the work of William H. Prescott, it was adopted by most of the world, including 19th century Mexican scholars who saw it as a way to distinguish present-day Mexicans from pre-conquest Mexicans. This usage has been the subject of debate in more recent years, but the term "Aztec" is still more common.
Aztec culture is the culture of the people referred to as Aztecs, but since all ethnic groups of central Mexico in the postclassic period shared most basic cultural traits,][ many of the basic traits of Aztec culture cannot be said to be exclusive for the Aztecs. For the same reason the notion of "Aztec civilization" is best understood as a particular horizon of a general Mesoamerican civilization.
The culture of central Mexico includes maize cultivation, the social division between noble pipiltin and macehualli commoners, a pantheon (featuring Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl), and the calendric system of a xiuhpohualli of 365 days intercalated with a tonalpohualli of 260 days. Particular to the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan was the Mexica patron God Huitzilopochtli, twin pyramids, and the ceramic ware known as Aztec I to III.
The Aztec empire was a tribute empire based in Tenochtitlan, which extended its power throughout Mesoamerica in the late postclassic period. It originated in 1427 as a triple-alliance between the city-states Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan who allied to defeat the Tepanec state of Azcapotzalco, that had previously dominated the Basin of Mexico. Soon Texcoco and Tlacopan became junior partners in the alliance which was de facto led by the Mexica of Tenochtitlan. The empire extended its power by a combination of trade and military conquest. It was never a true territorial empire controlling a territory by large military garrisons in conquered provinces, but rather controlled its client states primarily by installing friendly rulers in conquered cities, by constructing marriage alliances between the ruling dynasties, and by extending an imperial ideology to its client states. Client states paid tribute to the Aztec emperor, the Huey Tlatoani, in an economic strategy limiting communication and trade between outlying polities making them depend on the imperial center for the acquisition of luxury goods. The political clout of the empire reached far south into Mesoamerica conquering cities as far south as Chiapas and Guatemala and spanning from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. The empire reached its maximal extent in 1519 just prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors led by Cortés who managed to topple the Aztec empire by allying with some of the traditional enemies of the Aztecs, the Nahuatl speaking Tlaxcalteca.
The Nahua peoples began to migrate into Mesoamerica from northern Mexico in the 6th century. They populated central Mexico dislocating speakers of Oto-Manguean languages as they spread their political influence south. As the former nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples mixed with the complex civilizations of Mesoamerica, adopting religious and cultural practices, the foundation for later Aztec culture was laid. During the Postclassic period they rose to power at such sites as Tula, Hidalgo. In the 12th century the Nahua power center was in Azcapotzalco, from where the Tepanecs dominated the valley of Mexico. Around this time the Mexica tribe arrived in central Mexico.
The true origin of the Mexicas is uncertain. According to their legends, the Mexica tribe place of origin was Aztlán. It is generally thought that Aztlán was somewhere to the north of the Valley of Mexico; some experts have placed it as far north as the Southwestern United States.
Based on these codices as well as other histories, it appears that the Mexicas arrived at Chapultepec in or around the year 1248.
At the time of their arrival, the Valley of Mexico had many city-states, the most powerful of which were Culhuacan to the south and Azcapotzalco to the west. The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco soon expelled the Mexicas from Chapultepec. In 1299, Culhuacan ruler Cocoxtli gave them permission to settle in the empty barrens of Tizapan, where they were eventually assimilated into Culhuacan culture.
According to Aztec legend, in 1323, the Mexicas were shown a vision of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, eating a snake.][ This vision indicated that this was the location where they were to build their home. In any event, the Mexicas eventually arrived on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco where they founded the town of Tenochtitlan in 1325.][ In 1376, the Mexicas elected their first Huey Tlatoani, Acamapichtli, who was living in Texcoco at the time.
For the next 50 years, until 1427, the Mexica were a tributary of Azcapotzalco, which had become a regional power, perhaps the most powerful since the Toltecs, centuries earlier. Maxtla, son of Tezozomoc, assassinated Chimalpopoca, the Mexica ruler. In an effort to defeat Maxtla, Chimalpopoca's successor, Itzcoatl, allied with the exiled ruler of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl. This coalition was the foundation of the Aztec Triple Alliance, which defeated Azcapotzalco in 1428.
The triple-alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan would, in the next 100 years, come to dominate the Valley of Mexico and extend its power to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific shore. Over this period, Tenochtitlan gradually became the dominant power in the alliance.
Two of the primary architects of the Aztec empire were the half-brothers Tlacaelel and Montezuma I, nephews of Itzcoatl. Moctezuma I succeeded Itzcoatl as Hueyi Tlatoani in 1440. Although he was also offered the opportunity to be tlatoani, Tlacaelel preferred to operate as the power behind the throne. Tlacaelel reformed the Aztec state and religion. According to some sources, he ordered the burning of most of the extant Aztec books claiming that they contained lies. He thereupon rewrote the history of the Aztec people, thus creating a common awareness of history for the Aztecs. This rewriting led directly to the curriculum taught to scholars and promoted the belief that the Aztecs were always a powerful and mythic nation; forgetting forever a possible true history of modest origins. One component of this reform was the institution of ritual war (the flower wars) as a way to have trained warriors, and created the necessity of constant sacrifices to keep the Sun moving.
The empire reached its height during Ahuitzotl's reign in 1486–1502. His successor, Motehcuzōma Xocoyotzin (better known as Moctezuma II or Moctezuma, or Montezuma), had been Hueyi Tlatoani for 17 years when the Spaniards, led by Hernándo Cortés, landed on the Gulf Coast in the spring of 1519.
Despite some early battles between the two, Cortés allied himself with the Aztecs’ long-time enemy, the Confederacy of Tlaxcala, and arrived at the gates of Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519.
The Spaniards and their Tlaxcallan allies became increasingly dangerous and unwelcome guests in the capital city. In June 1520, hostilities broke out, culminating in the massacre in the Main Temple and the death of Moctezuma II. The Spaniards fled the town on July 1, an episode later characterized as La Noche Triste (the Sad Night). They and their native allies returned in the spring of 1521 to lay siege to Tenochtitlan, a battle that ended on August 13 with the destruction of the city. During this period the now crumbling empire went through a rapid line of ruler succession. After the death of Moctezuma II, the empire fell into the hands of severely weakened emperors, such as Cuitláhuac, before eventually being ruled by puppet rulers, such as Andrés de Tapia Motelchiuh, installed by the Spanish.
Despite the decline of the Aztec empire, most of the Mesoamerican cultures were intact after the fall of Tenochtitlan. Indeed, the freedom from Aztec domination may have been considered a positive development by most of the other cultures. The upper classes of the Aztec empire were considered noblemen by the Spaniards and generally treated as such initially. All this changed rapidly and the native population were soon forbidden to study by law, and had the status of minors.][
The Tlaxcalans remained loyal to their Spanish friends and were allowed to come on other conquests with Cortés and his men.
In 1520–1521, an outbreak of smallpox swept through the population of Tenochtitlan and was decisive in the fall of the city. It is estimated that between 10% and 50% of the population fell victim to this epidemic.
Subsequently, the Valley of Mexico was hit with two more epidemics, smallpox (1545–1548), and typhus (1576–1581). The Spaniards, to consolidate the diminishing population, merged the survivors from small towns in the Valley of Mexico into bigger ones. This broke the power of the upper classes, but did not dissolve the coherence of the indigenous society in greater Mexico.
The population before the time of the conquest is unknown and hotly contested, but disease is known to have ravaged the region; thus, the indigenous population of the Valley of Mexico is estimated to have declined by more than 80% in the course of about 60 years.
The Aztec Empire was an example of an empire that ruled by indirect means. Like most European empires, it was ethnically very diverse, but unlike most European empires, it was more of a system of tribute than a single system of government. In the theoretical framework of imperial systems posited by Alexander J. Motyl, the Aztec empire was an informal or hegemonic empire because it did not exert supreme authority over the conquered lands; it merely expected tributes to be paid. It was also a discontinuous empire because not all dominated territories were connected; for example, the southern peripheral zones of Xoconochco were not in direct contact with the center. The hegemonic nature of the Aztec empire can be seen in the fact that generally local rulers were restored to their positions once their city-state was conquered and the Aztecs did not interfere in local affairs, as long as the tribute payments were made.
Although the form of government is often referred to as an empire, in fact most areas within the empire were organized as city-states, known as altepetl in Nahuatl. These were small polities ruled by a king (tlatoani) from a legitimate dynasty. The Early Aztec period was a time of growth and competition among altepetl. Even after the empire was formed (1428) and began its program of expansion through conquest, the altepetl remained the dominant form of organization at the local level. The efficient role of the altepetl as a regional political unit was largely responsible for the success of the empire's hegemonic form of control.
Several pages from the Codex Mendoza list tributary towns along with the goods they supplied, which included not only luxuries such as feathers, adorned suits, and greenstone beads, but more practical goods such as cloth, firewood, and food. Tribute was usually paid twice or four times a year at differing times.
Archaeological excavations in the Aztec-ruled provinces show that incorporation into the empire had both costs and benefits for provincial peoples. On the positive side, the empire promoted commerce and trade, and exotic goods from obsidian to bronze managed to reach the houses of both commoners and nobles. Trade partners included the enemy Tarascan, a source of bronze tools and jewelry. On the negative side, imperial tribute imposed a burden on commoner households, who had to increase their work to pay their share of tribute. Nobles, on the other hand, often made out well under imperial rule because of the indirect nature of imperial organization. The empire had to rely on local kings and nobles and offered them privileges for their help in maintaining order and keeping the tribute flowing.
The Aztec economy can be divided into a political sector, under the control of nobles and kings, and a commercial sector that operated independently of the political sector. The political sector of the economy centered on the control of land and labor by kings and nobles. Nobles owned all land, and commoners got access to farmland and other fields through a variety of arrangements, from rental through sharecropping to serf-like labor and slavery. These payments from commoners to nobles supported both the lavish lifestyles of the high nobility and the finances of city-states. Many luxury goods were produced for consumption by nobles. The producers of featherwork, sculptures, jewelry, and other luxury items were full-time commoner specialists who worked for noble patrons.
In the commercial sector of the economy several types of money were in regular use. Small purchases were made with cacao beans, which had to be imported from lowland areas. In Aztec marketplaces, a small rabbit was worth 30 beans, a turkey egg cost 3 beans, and a tamal cost a single bean. For larger purchases, standardized lengths of cotton cloth called quachtli were used. There were different grades of quachtli, ranging in value from 65 to 300 cacao beans. One source stated that 20 quachtli could support a commoner for one year in Tenochtitlan. A man could also sell his own daughter as a sexual slave or future religious sacrifice, generally for around 500 to 700 beans. A small gold statue (approximately 0.62 kg / 1.37 lb) cost 250 beans. Money was used primarily in the many periodic markets that were held in each town. A typical town would have a weekly market (every 5 days), while larger cities held markets every day. Cortés reported that the central market of Tlatelolco, Tenochtitlan's sister city, was visited by 60,000 people daily. Some sellers in the markets were petty vendors; farmers might sell some of their produce, potters sold their vessels, and so on. Other vendors were professional merchants who traveled from market to market seeking profits. The pochteca were specialized merchants organized into exclusive guilds. They made long expeditions to all parts of Mesoamerica, and they served as the judges and supervisors of the Tlatelolco market. Although the economy of Aztec Mexico was commercialized (in its use of money, markets, and merchants) land and labor were not commodities for sale.
The main contribution of the Aztec rule was a system of communications between the conquered cities. In Mesoamerica, without draft animals for transport (nor, as a result, wheeled vehicles), the roads were designed for travel on foot. Usually these roads were maintained through tribute, and travelers had places to rest and eat and even latrines to use at regular intervals, roughly every 10 to 15 kilometres (6 to 9 mi). Couriers (paynani) were constantly travelling along those ways, keeping the Aztecs informed of events, and helping to monitor the integrity of the roads.
The Mexica made reference to at least two manifestations of the supernatural: tēōtl and tēixiptla. Tēōtl, which the Spaniards and European scholars routinely mistranslated as "god" or "demon", referred rather to an impersonal force that permeated the world. Tēixiptla, by contrast, denoted the physical representations ("idols", statues and figurines) of the tēōtl as well as the human cultic activity surrounding this physical representation. The Mexica "gods" themselves had no existence as distinct entities apart from these tēixiptla representations of tēōtl.
Veneration of Huitzilopochtli, the personification of the sun and of war, was central to the religious, social and political practices of the Mexicas. Huitzilopochtli attained this central position after the founding of Tenochtitlan and the formation of the Mexica city-state society in the 14th century. Prior to this, Huitzilopochtli was associated primarily with hunting, presumably one of the important subsistence activities of the itinerant bands that would eventually become the Mexica.
According to myth, Huitzilopochtli directed the wanderers to found a city on the site where they would see an eagle devouring a snake perched on a fruit-bearing nopal cactus. (It was said that Huitzilopochtli killed his nephew, Cópil, and threw his heart on the lake. Huitzilopochtli honoured Cópil by causing a cactus to grow over Cópil's heart.) Legend has it that this is the site on which the Mexicas built their capital city of Tenochtitlan. This legendary vision is pictured on the Coat of arms of Mexico.
According to their own history, when the Mexicas arrived in the Anahuac valley (Valley of Mexico) around Lake Texcoco, the groups living there considered them uncivilized. The Mexicas borrowed much of their culture from the ancient Toltec whom they seem to have at least partially confused with the more ancient civilization of Teotihuacan. To the Mexicas, the Toltecs were the originators of all culture; "Toltecayōtl" was a synonym for culture. Mexica legends identify the Toltecs and the cult of Quetzalcoatl with the mythical city of Tollan, which they also identified with the more ancient Teotihuacan.
As all other Mesoamerican cultures, the Aztecs played a variant of the Mesoamerican ballgame, named tlachtli or ollamaliztli in Nahuatl. The game was played with a ball of solid rubber, called an olli, whence derives the Spanish word for rubber, hule. The players hit the ball with their hips, knees, and elbows and had to pass the ball through a stone ring to automatically win. The practice of the ballgame carried religious and mythological meanings and also served as sport.
While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, if their own accounts are to be believed, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. For example, for the reconsecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 80,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself. This number, however, is not universally accepted.
Accounts by the Tlaxcaltecas, the primary enemy of the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest, show that at least some of them considered it an honor to be sacrificed. In one legend, the warrior Tlahuicole was freed by the Aztecs but eventually returned of his own volition to die in ritual sacrifice. Tlaxcala also practiced the human sacrifice of captured Aztec Citizens.
The highest class were the pīpiltin or nobility. Originally this status was not hereditary, although the sons of pillis had access to better resources and education, so it was easier for them to become pillis. Later the class system took on hereditary aspects.
The second class were the mācehualtin, originally peasants. Eduardo Noguera estimates that in later stages only 20% of the population was dedicated to agriculture and food production. The other 80% of society were warriors, artisans and traders. Eventually, most of the mācehuallis were dedicated to arts and crafts. Their works were an important source of income for the city.
Slaves or tlacotin also constituted an important class. Aztecs could become slaves because of debts, as a criminal punishment or as war captives. A slave could have possessions and even own other slaves. However, upon becoming a slave, all of the slave's animals and excess money would go to his purchaser. Slaves could buy their liberty, and slaves could be set free if they had children with or were married to their masters. Typically, upon the death of the master, slaves who had performed outstanding services were freed. The rest of the slaves were passed on as part of an inheritance.
Traveling merchants called pochtecah were a small, but important class as they not only facilitated commerce, but also communicated vital information across the empire and beyond its borders. They were often employed as spies.
Until the age of fourteen, the mandatory universal][ education of children was in the hands of their parents, but supervised by the authorities of their calpōlli. Part of this education involved learning a collection of sayings, called huēhuetlàtolli ("sayings of the old"), that embodied the Aztecs' ideals.
There were two types of schools: the telpochcalli, for practical and military studies, and the calmecac, for advanced learning in writing, astronomy, statesmanship, theology, and other areas.
Song and poetry were highly regarded; there were presentations and poetry contests at most of the Aztec festivals. There were also dramatic presentations that included players, musicians and acrobats.
A remarkable amount of this poetry survives, having been collected during the era of the conquest. In some cases poetry is attributed to individual authors, such as Nezahualcoyotl, tlatoani of Texcoco, and Cuacuauhtzin, Lord of Tepechpan, but whether these attributions reflect actual authorship is a matter of opinion. Miguel León-Portilla, a well-respected Aztec scholar of Mexico, has stated that it is in this poetry where we can find the real thought of the Aztecs, independent of "official" Aztec ideology.
"Poetry" was in xochitl in cuicatl a dual term meaning "the flower and the song" and was divided into different genres. Yaocuicatl was devoted to war and the god(s) of war, Teocuicatl to the gods and creation myths and to adoration of said figures, xochicuicatl to flowers (a symbol of poetry itself and indicative of the highly metaphorical nature of a poetry that often utilized duality to convey multiple layers of meaning). "Prose" was tlahtolli, also with its different categories and divisions (Garganigo et al.).
The most important collection of these poems is Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, collected (Tezcoco 1582), probably by Juan Bautista de Pomar. Bautista de Pomar was the great-grandson of Netzahualcoyotl. He spoke Nahuatl, but was raised a Christian and wrote in Latin characters. (See also: "Is It You?", a short poem attributed to Netzahualcoyotl, and "Lament on the Fall of Tenochtitlan", a short poem contained within the "Anales de Tlatelolco" manuscript.)
The capital city of the Aztec empire was Tenochtitlan, now the site of modern-day Mexico City. Built on a series of islets in Lake Texcoco, the city plan was based on a symmetrical layout that was divided into four city sections called campans. The city was interlaced with canals which were useful for transportation.
Tenochtitlan was built according to a fixed plan and centered on the ritual precinct, where the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan rose 50 m (164.04 ft) above the city. Houses were made of wood and loam, roofs were made of reed, although pyramids, temples and palaces were generally made of stone.
Around the island, chinampa beds were used to grow foods as well as, over time, to increase the size of the island. Chinampas, misnamed "floating gardens", were long raised plant beds set upon the shallow lake bottom. They were a very efficient agricultural system and could provide up to seven crops a year. On the basis of current chinampa yields, it has been estimated that 1 hectare of chinampa would feed 20 individuals and 9,000 hectares of chinampas could feed 180,000.
Anthropologist Eduardo Noguera estimates the population at 200,000 based in the house count and merging the population of Tlatelolco (once an independent city, but later became a suburb of Tenochtitlan). If one includes the surrounding islets and shores surrounding Lake Texcoco, estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000 inhabitants.
The pre-conquest Aztecs were a society that had four main methods of agriculture. The earliest, most basic form of agriculture implemented by the Aztecs is known as “rainfall cultivation.” The Aztecs also implemented terrace agriculture in hilly areas, or areas that could not be used for level ground farming. In the valleys irrigation farming was used. Dams diverted water from natural springs to the fields. This allowed for harvests on a regular basis. The Aztecs built canal systems that were longer and much more elaborate than previous irrigation systems. They managed to divert a large portion of the Cuauhtitlan River to provide irrigation to large areas of fields. The network of canals was a very complex and intricate system.
In the swampy regions along Lake Xochimilco, the Aztecs implemented yet another method of crop cultivation. They built what are called chinampas. Chinampas are areas of raised land, created from alternating layers of mud from the bottom of the lake, and plant matter/other vegetation. These “raised beds” were separated by narrow canals, which allowed farmers to move between them by canoe. The chinampas were extremely fertile pieces of land, and yielded, on average, seven crops annually. In order to plant on them, farmers first created “seedbeds,” or reed rafts, where they planted seeds and allowed them to germinate. Once they had, they were re-planted in the chinampas. This cut the growing time down considerably.
The Aztecs are credited with domestication of the subspecies of wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, which is native to this region.
While most of the farming occurred outside the densely populated areas, within the cities there was another method of (small scale) farming. Each family had their own garden plot where they grew maize, fruits, herbs, medicines and other important plants.
Of the various crops grown by the Aztecs, maize was the most important. Aztec diets centered on it. Maize was grown across the entire empire, in the highland terraces, valley farms and also on the chinampas. Women ground maize into a coarse meal by rubbing it with a grinding stone called a manos against a flat stone called a metate. The Aztecs made tortillas from the corn meal. Other crops that the Aztecs relied upon were avocados, beans, squashes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, chia, amaranth and chilies. These crops were also grown everywhere. Crops that were specific to the lowland regions were cotton, fruits, cacao beans and rubber trees.
Aztecs admired Mixtec craftsmanship so much that they imported artisans to Tenochtitlan and requested work to be done in certain Mixtec styles. The Aztecs also admired the Mixtec codices, so some of them were made to order by Mixteca for the Aztecs. In the later days, high society Aztec women started to wear Mixtec clothing, specifically the quexquemetl. It was worn over their traditional huipil, and much coveted by the women who could not afford such imported goods.
The situation was analogous in many ways to the Phoenician culture which imported and duplicated art from other cultures that they encountered.
Archaeologists usually do not have a problem differentiating between Mixtec and Aztec artifacts. However, the Mixtec made some products for "export" and that makes classification more problematic. In addition, the production of craft was an important part of the Mexica economy, and they also made pieces for "export".
Most modern-day Mexicans (and people of Mexican descent in other countries) are mestizos, of mixed indigenous and European ancestry. During the 16th century the racial composition of Mexico began to change from one that featured distinct indigenous (Mexicas and members of the many other Mexican indigenous groups) and immigrant (mostly Spanish) populations, to the population composed primarily of mestizos that is found in modern day Mexico.
The Nahuatl language is today spoken by 1.5 million people, mostly in mountainous areas in the states of central Mexico. Local dialects of Spanish, Mexican Spanish generally, and the Spanish language worldwide have all been influenced, in varying degrees, by Nahuatl. Some Nahuatl words (most notably chocolate and tomato) have been borrowed through Spanish into other languages around the world.
Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, making it one of the oldest living cities of the Americas. Many of its districts and natural landmarks retain their original Nahuatl names. Many other cities and towns in Mexico and Central America have also retained their Nahuatl names (whether or not they were originally Mexica or even Nahuatl-speaking towns). A number of town names are hybrids of Nahuatl and Spanish.
Mexican cuisine continues to be based on and flavored by agricultural products contributed by the Mexicas/Aztecs and Mesoamerica, most of which retain some form of their original Nahuatl names. The cuisine has also become a popular part of the cuisine of the United States and other countries around the world, typically altered to suit various national tastes.
The modern Mexican flag bears the emblem of the Mexica migration story.
Before the development of archaeology in Mexico in the 19th century, the historians mainly interpreted the ancient written sources to reconstitute Aztec history. Archaeology allowed to reconsider and criticize some of those interpretations and contradictions between the primary sources. Now, the scholar study of aztec civilization is most often based on scientific and multidisciplinary methodologies.
There are few extant Aztec codices created before the conquest and these are largely ritual texts. Post-conquest codices, like Codex Mendoza or Codex Ríos, were painted by Aztec tlacuilos (codex creators), but under the control of Spanish authorities. The possibility of Spanish influence poses potential problems for those studying the post-conquest codices. Itzcoatl had the oldest hieroglyphics destroyed for political-religious reasons and Bishop Zumarraga of Mexico (1528–48) had all available texts burned for missionary reasons.
The accounts of the conquistadors are those of men confronted with a new civilization, which they tried to interpret according to their own culture. Cortés was the most educated, and his letters to Charles V are a valuable firsthand account. Unfortunately, one of his letters is lost and replaced by a posterior text and the others were censored prior to their publication. In any case, Cortés was not writing a dispassionate account, but letters justifying his actions and to some extent exaggerating his successes and downplaying his failures.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo accompanied Cortes, and he later wrote a book named: The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico. In his book, Capitan Bernal Díaz del Castillo provides his account of the Conquest of Mexico, in which he describes the events leading up to the conquest of Mexico, including accounts of the human sacrifices and cannibalism that he witnessed first hand. However, Bernal Díaz wrote several decades after the fact, never learned the native languages, and did not take notes. His account is colorful, but his work is considered by historians to be erratic and exaggerated.][
Although Francisco López de Gómara was Cortes' chaplain, friend, and confidant, he never visited the New World so his account is based on hearsay.
The accounts of the first priests and scholars, while reflecting their faith and their culture, are important sources. Fathers Diego Durán, Motolinia, and Mendieta wrote with their own religion in mind, Father Duran wrote trying to prove that the Aztec were one of the lost tribes of Israel. Bartolomé de las Casas wrote apologetically about the Indians, accusing the Spanish conquistadors of committing unspeakable atrocities in their subjugation of the Aztecs and other indigenous groups. Some authors tried to make a synthesis of the pre-Hispanic cultures, like "Oviedo y Herrera", Jose de Acosta, and Pedro Mártir de Anghiera.][
The most significant source about the Aztec are doubtless the manuscripts of Bernardino de Sahagún, who worked with the surviving Aztec wise men. He taught Aztec tlacuilos to write the original Nahuatl accounts using the Latin alphabet. Because of fear of the Spanish authorities, he maintained the anonymity of his informants, and wrote a heavily censored version in Spanish. Unfortunately the Nahuatl original was not fully translated until the 20th century, thus realising the extent of the censorship of the Spanish version. The original Nahuatl manuscript is known as the Florentine Codex.
Other important sources are the work of native and mestizo authors, descendants of the upper classes. These authors include Don Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, Juan Bautista de Pomar, and Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl. Ixtlixochitl, for example, wrote a history of Texcoco from a Christian point of view. His account of Netzahualcoyotl, an ancestor of Ixtlilxochitl's, has a strong resemblance to the story of King Solomon and portrays Netzahualcoyotl as a monotheist and a critic of human sacrifice.
Diego Muñoz Camargo (1521 – c. 1612), a Tlaxcalan mestizo, wrote the History of Tlaxcala six decades after the Spanish conquest. Some parts of his work have a strong Tlaxcala bias.
The Zapotec civilization was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca of southern Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence shows that their culture goes back at least 2,500 years. They left archaeological evidence at the ancient city of Monte Albán in the form of buildings, ball courts, magnificent tombs and grave goods including finely worked gold jewelry. Monte Albán was one of the first major cities in Mesoamerica and the center of a Zapotec state that dominated much of what is now the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Zapotec civilization had its beginnings in the Oaxaca valley in the late 6th Century BC. The three branches of the valley were divided between three (3) different sized societies, separated by 80 km2 “no-man’s-land” in the central valley. Archaeological evidence from the period, such as burned temples and sacrificed captives, suggest that the three societies were in some sort of competition. At the end of the Rosario phase (700–500 BC), something happened, the valley's largest settlement San José Mogote, and other nearby settlement in the Etla valley arm, lost most of its population. During the same period a new large settlement emerged in the “no-man’s-land” in the middle of the Oaxaca Valley, that settlement, which was constructed on top of a mountain overlooking the three arms of the valley was Monte Albán. Similarities between the pottery of San José Mogote and at early Monte Albán indicate that the people who populated Monte Albán were the people who had left San José Mogote. Archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent V. Flannery argue that this process is similar to the process of synoikism of ancient Greece, that is a centralization of smaller dispersed populations in one central city, often in order to meet an external threat. Even though there are no direct evidence for such an external threat in the early phases of Monte Albáns history, walls and fortifications built around the site during the archaeological phase Monte Alban 2( ca.100 BC -AD 200), suggest that the construction of the city may have been a response to a military threat.
The Zapotec state formed at Monte Albán began an expansion during the late Monte Alban 1 phase (400–100 BC) and throughout the Monte Alban 2 phase (100 BC – AD 200). Zapotec rulers began to seize control over the provinces outside the valley of Oaxaca. They could do this during Monte Alban 1c (roughly 200 BC) to Monte Alban 2 (200 BC – AD 100) because none of the surrounding provinces could compete with the valley of Oaxaca both politically and militarily. By 200 AD the Zapotecs had extended their influence, from Quiotepec in the north to Ocelotepec and Chiltepec in the south. Monte Albán had become the largest city in the southern Mexican highland, and so it remained until approximately 700 AD.
The expansion of the Zapotec empire peaked during the Monte Alban II phase. Zapotecs conquered or colonised settlements far beyond The Valley of Oaxaca. This expansion is visible in several ways, most important is the sudden change of ceramics found in regions outside the valley. These regions previously had their own unique styles which were suddenly replaced with Zapotec style pottery, indicating that they had become part of the Zapotec empire.
Archaeologist Alfonso Caso, who was one of the first to do excavations in Monte Albán, argued that a building on the main plaza of Monte Albán is further evidence for the dramatic expansion of the Zapotec state. The building, which today is referred to as building J, is shaped like an arrowhead and displays more than 40 carved stones with hieroglyphic writing. The stones have been interpreted by archaeologists to be the place names of provinces that were claimed by the Zapotecs of Monte Albán. In addition to the place names, each glyph group also depicts a head with an elaborate head dress carved into the slabs. This is assumed to illustrate the rulers of the provinces who were taken over. The stones which show a head turned upside down is believed to have been taken by force, and the ones which aren’t turned upside down may not have resisted the colonization, and therefore haven’t been killed. For this reason building J is also called “The Conquest Slab”
About the subsequent dramatic expansion of the Monte Albán state within Oaxaca Marcus and Flannery write: " a great disparity in populations between the core of a state and its periphery, it may only be necessary for the former to send colonist to the latter. Small polities, seeing that resistance would be futile, may accept a face-saving offer. Larger polities unwilling to lose their autonomy may have to be subdued militarily. During the expansion of Monte Alban 2 state, we think we see both colonization and conquest".
The name Zapotec is an exonym coming from Nahuatl tzapotēcah (singular tzapotēcatl), which means "inhabitants of the place of sapote". The Zapotec referred to themselves by some variant of the term Be'ena'a][, which means "The People".
The Zapotec languages belong to a language family called Oto-manguean, an ancient family of Mesoamerican languages. By 1500 BC the Oto-manguean language began to differ. The Manguean languages probably split first, then the Oto-pamean branch and later the divergence of Mixtecan and Zapotecan languages. The Zapotecan group includes the Zapotec languages and the closely related Chatino. Zapotec languages are spoken in the southwest part of the state of Oaxaca.
Zapotec is a tone language, which means that the meaning of a word is often determined by voice pitch. These tones are essential to understand the meaning of different words. The technical word for it is tonemes. The Zapotec language has several tonemes, in some there are 4 tones; high, low, rising and falling, and in some there are three; high, low and rising.
Between Monte Alban phases 1 and 2 there was a considerable expansion of the population of the Valley of Oaxaca. As the population grew, it seems that so did the degree of social differentiation, the centralization of political power, and ceremonial activity. During Monte Alban 1-2 it seems that the valley had been fragmented into several independent states, displayed by regional centers of power.
The Oaxaca Valley, the cradle of Zapotec civilization, is a broad valley in the north-eastern part of the state of Oaxaca located about 200 km south of Mexico City. Mountains surround the valley with The Sierra Madre Oriental in the north and the mountains of Tlacolula in the southeast. The area’s environment is well suited for agriculture, especially the cultivation of maize, making it a desirable place for settlers. The valley floor is mostly flat with large tracts of arable land. At the time of the emergence of Zapotec civilization, the valley soil had not suffered erosion, since the oak-pine forest surrounding the valley was intact. The temperate climate is ideal for maize cultivation, and it possible to harvest crops several times a year. Frost rarely occurs as it does at higher altitudes in the region. The high agricultural potential in The Valley of Oaxaca has certainly contributed to making this area become the locus of the first complex societies in the Valley of Oaxaca.
As well as the climate and the quality of the soil, access to water is also crucial for agriculture, more so in the valley of Oaxaca where the soil is low on humus and other nutrients. The valley is traversed from north to south by the Atoyac River which provides water for a small strip of land bordering the river, when it periodically floods. To provide water for crops elsewhere in the valley away from the river, for example to Monte Albán, the Zapotecs used canal irrigation. By irrigating water from small streams the Zapotecs were able to bring water to Monte Albán, situated 400 meter above the valley floor, far from the Atoyac River. Archaeologists have found the mountain’s found remains of a small irrigation system consisting of a dam and a canal two kilometres long on the mountains south-eastern flank. It would not have been sufficient to support all the inhabitants of Monte Albán, and it is therefore assumed that it was just one of many irrigation systems. Because of the rapid growth in population in the Monte Albán I phase the crops that were grown in the valley were not enough to sustain the population of Monte Albán. Therefore crops were grown on the piedmonts where the soil is a less fertile and the artificial irrigation was needed, this strategy has been called "the Piedmont strategy".
The Zapotecs developed a calendar and a logosyllabic system of writing that used a separate glyph to represent each of the syllables of the language. This writing system is one of several candidates thought to have been the first writing systems of Mesoamerica and the predecessor of the writing systems developed by the Maya, Mixtec and Aztec civilizations. At the present time, there is some debate as to whether or not Olmec symbols, dated to 650 BC, are actually a form of writing preceding the oldest Zapotec writing dated to about 500 BC.
In the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, there were Zapotec and Mixtec artisans who fashioned jewelry for the Aztec rulers (tlatoanis), including Moctezuma II. Relations with central Mexico go back much further however, as attested by the archaeological remains of a Zapotec neighborhood within Teotihuacan and a Teotihuacan style "guest house" in Monte Albán. Other important pre-Columbian Zapotec sites include Lambityeco, Dainzu, Mitla, Yagul, San José Mogote, El Palmillo and Zaachila.
They were a sedentary culture and well-advanced in civilization, living in large villages and towns, in houses constructed with stone and mortar. They recorded the principal events in their history by means of hieroglyphics, and in warfare they made use of a cotton armour. The well-known ruins of Mitla have been attributed to them and were claimed to be the tombs of their grandmothers and grandfathers.
The writing system of the Zapotec culture is one of the candidates for having been the earliest writing system in Mesoamerica. On a few monuments at Monte Albán archaeologists have found extended text in a glyphic script. Some signs can be recognized as calendric information but the script as such remains undeciphered. Read in columns from top to bottom, its execution is somewhat cruder than that of the later Classic Maya and this has led epigraphers to believe that the script was also less phonetic than the largely syllabic Mayan script. These are, however, speculations.
The earliest known monument with Zapotec writing is a "Danzante" stone, officially known as Monument 3, found in San Jose Mogote, Oaxaca. It has a relief of what appears to be a dead and bloodied captive with two glyphic signs between his legs, probably his name. First dated to 500–600 BCE, this was earlier considered the earliest writing in Mesoamerica. However doubts have been expressed as to this dating and the monument may have been reused. The Zapotec script went out of use only in the late Classic period.
Like most Mesoamerican religious systems, the Zapotec religion was polytheistic. Two principal deities include Cocijo, the rain god (similar to the Aztec god Tlaloc), and Coquihani, the god of light. It is believed that the Zapotec sometimes used human sacrifice in their rituals.][
There are several of Zapotec origin legends. One of them states that the zapotecs were the original people of the valley of Oaxaca and were born from rocks, or descended from animals such as pumas and ocelots. There is also another origin legend which states that they only settled in the Oaxaca valley after founding the Toltic empire, and that they descend from Chicomostoc. Though it is very important to mention that these legends weren’t transcribed until after the Spanish arrival.
The Zapotecs tell that their ancestors emerged from the earth, from caves, or that they turned from trees or jaguars into people, while the elite that governed them believed that they descended from supernatural beings that lived among the clouds, and that upon death they would return to such status. In fact, the name by which Zapotecs are known today resulted from this belief. In Central Valley Zapotec "The Cloud People' is "Be'ena' Za'a".
The Zapotecs had a predominance of deities associated with fertility and agriculture. There are both male and female representation, told apart from each other by costumes. Males normally wear breechclouts and sometimes capes, while females are represented by wearing skirts. Prominent gods are Cocijo – god of lightning and rain, he is represented from Monte Alban 1-4. Another one is the god of maize Pitao Cozobi.
There are some evidence of deities not directly associated with Zapotecs culture, such as the feathered serpent and the butterfly god, they are characteristic for Teotihuacán. And also the Teotihuacán rain god, and Xipe totec a deity associated with spring in nahuatl culture.
The last battle between the Aztecs and the Zapotecs occurred between 1497 and 1502, under the Aztec ruler Ahuizotl. At the time of Spanish conquest of Mexico, when news arrived that the Aztecs were defeated by the Spaniards, King Cosijoeza ordered his people not to confront the Spaniards so they would avoid the same fate. They were defeated by the Spaniards only after several campaigns between 1522 and 1527. However, uprisings against colonial authorities occurred in 1550, 1560 and 1715.][
The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BC to AD 250), according to the Mesoamerican chronology, many Maya cities reached their highest state of development during the Classic period (c. AD 250 to 900), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish.
The Maya civilization shares many features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the high degree of interaction and cultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya; however, their civilization fully developed them. Maya influence can be detected in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and western El Salvador to as far away as central Mexico, more than 1,000 km (620 mi) from the central Maya area. The many outside influences found in Maya art and architecture are thought to have resulted from trade and cultural exchange rather than direct external conquest.
The Maya peoples survived the Classic period collapse and the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and sixteenth-century Spanish colonization of the Americas. Today, the Maya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area; they maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs resulting from the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideas and cultures. Millions of people speak Mayan languages today. In 2005 the Rabinal Achí, a play written in the Achi language, was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The Maya civilization extended throughout the present-day southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and the Yucatán Peninsula states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatán. The Maya area also extended throughout the northern Central American region, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and extreme northern El Salvador.
The Maya area is generally divided into three loosely defined zones: the southern Pacific lowlands, the highlands, and the northern lowlands. The Maya highlands include all of elevated terrain in Guatemala and the Chiapas highlands of Mexico. The southern lowlands lie just south of the highlands, and incorporate a part of the Mexican state of Chiapas, the south coast of Guatemala, Belize and northern El Salvador. The northern lowlands cover all of the Yucatán Peninsula, including the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo, the Petén Department of Guatemala, and all of Belize. Parts of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas are also included in the northern lowlands.
Scholars continue to discuss when this era of Maya civilization began. Discoveries of Maya occupation at Cuello, Belize have been carbon dated to around 2600 BCE. The people built monumental structures. The Maya calendar, which is based on the so-called Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, begins on a date equivalent to 11 August 3114 BC.
The most widely accepted view, as of 2010[update], is that the first clearly Maya settlements were established around 1800 BCE in the Soconusco region of the Pacific Coast][. This period, known as the Early Preclassic, was characterized by sedentary communities and the introduction of pottery and fired clay figurines.
Important sites in the southern Maya lowlands include Nakbe, El Mirador, Cival, and San Bartolo. In the Guatemalan Highlands, Kaminaljuyu emerged around 800 BC. For many centuries it controlled the jade and obsidian sources for the Petén and Pacific Lowlands. The important early sites of Izapa, Takalik Abaj, and Chocolá at around 600 BCE were the main producers of Cacao. Mid-sized Maya communities also began to develop in the northern Maya lowlands during the Middle and Late Preclassic, though these lacked the size, scale, and influence of the large centers of the southern lowlands. Two important Preclassic northern sites include Komchen and Dzibilchaltun. The first written inscription in Maya hieroglyphics also dates to this period (c. 250 BCE).
Scholars disagree about the boundaries that define the physical and cultural extent of the early Maya and neighboring Preclassic Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmec culture of the Tabasco lowlands and the Mixe–Zoque- and Zapotec-speaking peoples of Chiapas and southern Oaxaca, respectively. Many of the earliest significant inscriptions and buildings appeared in this overlapping zone, and evidence suggests that these cultures and the formative Maya influenced one another. Takalik Abaj, in the Pacific slopes of Guatemala, is the only site where Olmec features have been clearly succeeded by Mayan ones.
Around 100 AD, a widespread decline and abandonment of Maya cities occurred – called the Preclassic Collapse. This marked the end of the Preclassic era.
The Classic period (c. AD 250–900) was one of the peak of large-scale construction and urbanism, the recording of monumental inscriptions, and significant intellectual and artistic development, particularly in the southern lowland regions. The people developed an agriculturally intensive, city-centered civilization consisting of numerous independent city-states – some subservient to others. This includes the well-known cities of Caracol, Tikal, Palenque, Copán, Xunantunich and Calakmul, but also the lesser known Lamanai, Dos Pilas, Cahal Pech, Uaxactun, Altun Ha, and Bonampak, among others. The Early Classic settlement distribution in the northern Maya lowlands is not as clearly known as the southern zone, but does include a number of population centers, such as Oxkintok, Chunchucmil, and the early occupation of Uxmal.
During this period the Maya population numbered in the millions. They created a multitude of kingdoms and small empires, built monumental palaces and temples, engaged in highly developed ceremonies, and developed an elaborate hieroglyphic writing system.
The social basis of this exuberant civilization was a large political and economic intersocietal network (world system) extending throughout the Maya region and beyond to the wider Mesoamerican world. The political, economic, and culturally dominant ‘core’ Maya units of the Classic Maya world system were located in the central lowlands, while its corresponding dependent or ‘peripheral’ Maya units were found along the margins of the southern highland and northern lowland areas. But as in all world systems, the Maya core centers shifted through time, starting out during Preclassic times in the southern highlands, moving to the central lowlands during the Classic period, and finally shifting to the northern peninsula during the Postclassic period. In this Maya world system, the semi-peripheral (mediational) units generally took the form of trade and commercial centers.
The most notable monuments are the stepped pyramids they built in their religious centers and the accompanying palaces of their rulers. The palace at Cancuén is the largest in the Maya area, but the site has no pyramids. Other important archaeological remains include the carved stone slabs usually called stelae (the Maya called them tetun, or "tree-stones"), which depict rulers along with hieroglyphic texts describing their genealogy, military victories, and other accomplishments.
The Maya civilization participated in long distance trade with many of the other Mesoamerican cultures, including Teotihuacan, the Zapotec, and other groups in central and gulf-coast Mexico. In addition, they had trade and exchanges with more distant, non-Mesoamerican groups, for example the Taínos of the Caribbean islands. Archeologists have found gold from Panama in the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza. Important trade goods included cacao, salt, seashells, jade, and obsidian.
The Maya centers of the southern lowlands went into decline during the 8th and 9th centuries and were abandoned shortly thereafter. This decline was coupled with a cessation of monumental inscriptions and large-scale architectural construction. No universally accepted theory explains this collapse.
Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into several subcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change. There is evidence that the Maya population exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and overhunting of megafauna. Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200-year drought led to the collapse of Maya civilization. The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds, ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community. Newer research from 2011, with use of high-resolution climate models and new reconstructions of past landscapes, suggests that converting much of their forest land into cropland may have led to reduced evapotranspiration and thus rainfall, magnifying natural drought. A study published in Science in 2012 found that modest rainfall reductions, amounting to only 25 to 40% in annual rainfall, may have been the tipping point to the Maya collapse. Based on samples of lake and cave sediments in the areas surrounding major Maya cities, the researchers were able to determine the amount of annual rainfall in the region. The mild droughts that took place between AD 800 and 950 were enough to rapidly reduce open water availability. A further paper in the same journal supports and extends this conclusion based on isotope analysis of minerals in a stalagmite. It argues that high rainfall between 440 and 660 CE allowed the Maya to flourish in the first instance, and that while mild droughts in the following years led to extensive warfare and the decline of Mayan civilisation, it was a prolonged period of drought between 1020 and 1100 CE that was ultimately fatal.
During the succeeding Postclassic period (from the 10th to the early 16th century), development in the northern centers persisted, characterized by an increasing diversity of external influences. The Maya cities of the northern lowlands in Yucatán continued to flourish for centuries more; some of the important sites in this era were Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Edzná, and Coba. After the decline of the ruling dynasties of Chichen and Uxmal, Mayapan ruled all of Yucatán until a revolt in 1450. (This city's name may be the source of the word "Maya", which had a more geographically restricted meaning in Yucatec and colonial Spanish and only grew to its current meaning in the 19th and 20th centuries). The area then degenerated into competing city-states until Yucatán was conquered by the Spanish.
The Itza Maya, Ko'woj, and Yalain groups of Central Peten survived the "Classic Period Collapse" in small numbers and by 1250 reconstituted themselves to form competing city-states. The Itza maintained their capital at Tayasal (also known as Noh Petén), an archaeological site thought to underlay the modern city of Flores, Guatemala on Lake Petén Itzá. It ruled over an area extending across the Peten Lakes region, encompassing the community of Eckixil on Lake Quexil. The Ko'woj had their capital at Zacpeten. Postclassic Maya states also continued to survive in the southern highlands. One of the Maya nations in this area, the K'iche' Kingdom of Q'umarkaj, is responsible for the best-known Maya work of historiography and mythology, the Popol Vuh. Other highland kingdoms included the Mam based at Huehuetenango, the Kaqchikels based at Iximche, the Chajoma based at Mixco Viejo and the Chuj, based at San Mateo Ixtatán.
Shortly after their first expeditions to the region, the Spanish initiated a number of attempts to subjugate the Maya who were hostile towards the Spanish crown and establish a colonial presence in the Maya territories of the Yucatán Peninsula and the Guatemalan highlands. This campaign, sometimes termed "The Spanish Conquest of Yucatán", would prove to be a lengthy and dangerous exercise for the conquistadores from the outset, and it would take some 170 years and tens of thousands of Indian auxiliaries before the Spanish established substantive control over all Maya lands.
Unlike the Aztec and Inca Empires, there was no single Maya political center that, once overthrown, would hasten the end of collective resistance from the indigenous peoples. Instead, the conquistador forces needed to subdue the numerous independent Maya polities almost one by one, many of which kept up a fierce resistance. Most of the conquistadors were motivated by the prospects of the great wealth to be had from the seizure of precious metal resources such as gold or silver; however, the Maya lands themselves were poor in these resources. This would become another factor in forestalling Spanish designs of conquest, as they instead were initially attracted to the reports of great riches in central Mexico or Peru.
The Spanish Church and government officials destroyed Maya texts and with them the knowledge of Maya writing, but by chance three of the pre-Columbian books dated to the post classic period have been preserved. These are known as the Madrid Codex, The Dresden Codex and the Paris Codex. The last Maya states, the Itza polity of Tayasal and the Ko'woj city of Zacpeten, were continuously occupied and remained independent of the Spanish until late in the 17th century. They were finally subdued by the Spanish in 1697.
A typical Classic Maya polity was a small hierarchical state (ajawil, ajawlel, or ajawlil) headed by a hereditary ruler known as an ajaw (later k’uhul ajaw). Such kingdoms were usually no more than a capital city with its neighborhood and several lesser towns, although there were greater kingdoms, which controlled larger territories and extended patronage over smaller polities.][ Each kingdom had a name that did not necessarily correspond to any locality within its territory. Its identity was that of a political unit associated with a particular ruling dynasty. For instance, the archaeological site of Naranjo was the capital of the kingdom of Saal. The land (chan ch’e’n) of the kingdom and its capital were called Wakab’nal or Maxam and were part of a larger geographical entity known as Huk Tsuk. Interestingly, despite constant warfare and eventual shifts in regional power, most kingdoms never disappeared from the political landscape until the collapse of the whole system in the 9th century AD. In this respect, Classic Maya kingdoms are highly similar to late Post Classic polities encountered by the Spaniards in Yucatán and Central Mexico: some polities could be subordinated to hegemonic rulers through conquests or dynastic unions and yet even then they persisted as distinct entities.][
Mayanists have been increasingly accepting a "court paradigm" of Classic Maya societies which puts the emphasis on the centrality of the royal household and especially the person of the king. This approach focuses on Maya monumental spaces as the embodiment of the diverse activities of the royal household. It considers the role of places and spaces (including dwellings of royalty and nobles, throne rooms, temples, halls and plazas for public ceremonies) in establishing power and social hierarchy, and also in projecting aesthetic and moral values to define the wider social realm.
Spanish sources invariably describe even the largest Maya settlements as dispersed collections of dwellings grouped around the temples and palaces of the ruling dynasty and lesser nobles. None of the Classic Maya cities shows evidence of economic specialization and commerce of the scale of Mexican Tenochtitlan. Instead, Maya cities could be seen as enormous royal households, the locales of the administrative and ritual activities of the royal court. They were the places where privileged nobles could approach the holy ruler, where aesthetic values of the high culture were formulated and disseminated and where aesthetic items were consumed. They were the self-proclaimed centers and the sources of social, moral, and cosmic order. The fall of a royal court as in the well-documented cases of Piedras Negras or Copan would cause the inevitable "death" of the associated settlement.
Maya art of the Classic era (c. 250 to 900 CE) is of a high level of aesthetic and artisanal sophistication, from the lay-out and architecture of court towns down to the decorative arts. The stucco and stone reliefs of Palenque and the statuary of Copán, particularly its impressive stelas, show a grace and accurate observation of the human form that reminded early archaeologists of Classical civilizations of the Old World][, hence the name bestowed on this era. We have a considerable number of examples of the advanced mural painting of the Classic Maya, most completely preserved in a building at Bonampak; Late Preclassic murals of great artistic and iconographic perfection have been recently discovered at San Bartolo. A rich blue color ('Maya Blue') survived through the centuries due to its unique chemical characteristics. Painted, carved, and molded Maya ceramics were ubiquitous; often found in graves, and showing a vast array of subjects, they constitute an important source of information. Of the many folding-books, only three survive, all from the Post-Classic period, of which the Dresden Codex is artistically superior. With the progressive decipherment of the Maya script, it was also discovered that the Maya were one of the few civilizations where artists attached their name to their work.
King Ahkal Mo' Naab III of Palenque, stone, 8th Century
Jaina Island figurine, AD 650–800
Illustration of a stucco relief at Palenque, dating to c. AD 670
Maya architecture spans many thousands of years; yet, often the most dramatic and easily recognizable as Maya are the stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond. There are also cave sites that are important to the Maya. These cave sites include Jolja Cave, the cave site at Naj Tunich, the Candelaria Caves, and the Cave of the Witch. There are also cave-origin myths among the Maya. Some cave sites are still used by the modern Maya in the Chiapas highlands.
It has been suggested][ that temples and pyramids were remodeled and rebuilt every fifty-two years in synchrony with the Maya Long Count Calendar. It appears now that the rebuilding process was often instigated by a new ruler or for political matters, as opposed to matching the calendar cycle. However, the process of rebuilding on top of old structures is indeed a common one. Most notably, the North Acropolis at Tikal seems to be the sum total of 1,500 years of architectural modifications. In Tikal, Yaxha and Ixlu there were twin pyramid complexes. There were nine in Tikal and one each in Yaxha and Ixlu; at Tikal they were used to commemorate the end of a 20-year k'atun cycle. Through observation of the numerous consistent elements and stylistic distinctions, remnants of Maya architecture have become an important key to understanding the evolution of their ancient civilization.
As Maya cities spread throughout the varied geography of Mesoamerica, site planning appears to have been minimal. Maya architecture tended to integrate a great degree of natural features][, and their cities were built somewhat haphazardly as dictated by the topography of each independent location. For instance, some cities on the flat limestone plains of the northern Yucatán grew into great sprawling municipalities, while others built in the hills of Usumacinta utilized the natural loft of the topography to raise their towers and temples to impressive heights. However, some degree of order, as required in any large city, still prevailed.
Classic Era Maya urban design could easily be described as the division of space by great monuments and causeways. Open public plazas were the gathering places for people and the focus of urban design, while interior space was entirely secondary. Only in the Late Post-Classic era did the great Maya cities develop into more fortress-like defensive structures that lacked, for the most part, the large and numerous plazas of the Classic.
At the onset of large-scale construction during the Classic Era, a predetermined axis was typically established in a cardinal direction. Depending on the location of natural resources such as fresh-water wells, or cenotes, the city grew by using sacbeob (limed causeways or "white roads") to connect great plazas with the numerous platforms that created the sub-structure for nearly all Maya buildings. As more structures were added and existing structures re-built or remodeled, the great Maya cities seemed to take on an almost random identity that contrasted sharply with other great Mesoamerican cities such as Teotihuacan and its rigid grid-like construction.
At the heart of the Maya city were large plazas surrounded by the most important governmental and religious buildings, such as the royal acropolis, great pyramid temples and occasionally ball-courts. Though city layouts evolved as nature dictated, careful attention was placed on the directional orientation of temples and observatories so that they were constructed in accordance with Maya interpretation of the orbits of the heavenly bodies. Immediately outside of this ritual center were the structures of lesser nobles, smaller temples, and individual shrines; the less sacred and less important structures had a greater degree of privacy. Outside of the constantly evolving urban core were the less permanent and more modest homes of the common people.
A surprising aspect of the great Maya structures is their lack of many advanced technologies seemingly necessary for such constructions. Lacking draft animals necessary for wheel-based modes of transportation, metal tools and even pulleys, Maya architecture required abundant manpower. Yet, beyond this enormous requirement, the remaining materials seem to have been readily available. All stone for Maya structures appears to have been taken from local quarries. They most often used limestone which remained pliable enough to be worked with stone tools while being quarried and only hardened once removed from its bed. In addition to the structural use of limestone, much of their mortar consisted of crushed, burnt and mixed limestone that mimicked the properties of cement and was used as widely for stucco finishing as it was for mortar.
Later improvements in quarrying techniques reduced the necessity for this limestone-stucco as the stones began to fit quite perfectly, yet it remained a crucial element in some post and lintel roofs. In the case of the common Maya houses, wooden poles, adobe and thatch were the primary materials; however, instances of what appear to be common houses of limestone have been discovered as well. Also notable throughout Maya architecture is the corbel arch (also known as a "false arch"), which allowed for more open-aired entrances. The corbelled arch improved upon pier/post and lintel doorways by directing the weight off of the lintel and onto the supporting posts.
Detail of carving on right-hand (facing temple) wall of Mask Temple at Lamanai
"El Castillo" at Xunantunich. It stands at 132 ft (40 m). high
Frieze of "El Castillo" at Xunantunich
Main palace of Palenque, 7th Century AD
Governor's Palace rear view and details,10th Century AD Uxmal
Codz Poop, 7th–10th Centuries AD Kabah
The Maya writing system (often called hieroglyphs from a superficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing) was a combination of phonetic symbols and logograms. It is most often classified as a logographic or (more properly) a logosyllabic writing system, in which syllabic signs play a significant role. It is the only writing system of the Pre-Columbian New World which is known to represent the spoken language of its community. In total, the script has more than a thousand different glyphs, although a few are variations of the same sign or meaning, and many appear only rarely or are confined to particular localities. At any one time, no more than around 500 glyphs were in use, some 200 of which (including variations) had a phonetic or syllabic interpretation.
The earliest inscriptions in an identifiably Maya script date back to 200–300 BC. However, this is preceded by several other writing systems which had developed in Mesoamerica, most notably that of the Zapotecs, and (following the 2006 publication of research on the recently discovered Cascajal Block), the Olmecs. There is a pre-Maya writing known as "Epi-Olmec script" (post Olmec) which some researchers believe may represent a transitional script between Olmec and Maya writing, but the relationships between these remain unclear and the matter is unsettled. On January 5, 2006, National Geographic published the findings of Maya writings that could be as old as 400 BC, suggesting that the Maya writing system is nearly as old as the oldest Mesoamerican writing known at that time, Zapotec. In the succeeding centuries the Maya developed their script into a form which was far more complete and complex than any other that has yet been found in the Americas.
Since its inception, the Maya script was in use up to the arrival of the Europeans, peaking during the Maya Classical Period (c. 200 to 900). Although many Maya centers went into decline (or were completely abandoned) during or after this period, the skill and knowledge of Maya writing persisted among segments of the population, and the early Spanish conquistadors knew of individuals who could still read and write the script. Unfortunately, the Spanish displayed little interest in it, and as a result of the dire impacts the conquest had on Maya societies, the knowledge was subsequently lost, probably within only a few generations.
At a rough estimate, in excess of 10,000 individual texts have so far been recovered, mostly inscribed on stone monuments, lintels, stelae and ceramic pottery. The Maya also produced texts painted on a form of paper manufactured from processed tree-bark, in particular from several species of strangler fig trees such as Ficus cotinifolia and Ficus padifolia. This paper, common throughout Mesoamerica and generally now known by its Nahuatl-language name amatl, was typically bound as a single continuous sheet that was folded into pages of equal width, concertina-style, to produce a codex that could be written on both sides. Shortly after the conquest, all of the codices which could be found were ordered to be burnt and destroyed by zealous Spanish priests, notably Bishop Diego de Landa. Only a few reasonably intact examples of Maya codices are known to have survived through to the present day, including the Madrid, Dresden, and Paris codices. A few pages survive from a fourth, the Grolier Codex, whose authenticity is disputed. Further archaeology conducted at Maya sites often reveals other fragments, rectangular lumps of plaster and paint chips which formerly were codices; these tantalizing remains are, however, too severely damaged for any inscriptions to have survived, most of the organic material having decayed.
The decipherment and recovery of the now-lost knowledge of Maya writing has been a long and laborious process. Some elements were first deciphered in the late 19th and early 20th century, mostly the parts having to do with numbers, the Maya calendar, and astronomy. Major breakthroughs came starting in the 1950s to 1970s, and accelerated rapidly thereafter. By the end of the 20th century, scholars were able to read the majority of Maya texts to a large extent, and recent field work continues to further illuminate the content.
In reference to the few extant Maya writings, Michael D. Coe, a prominent archaeologist at Yale University, stated:
Most surviving pre-Columbian Maya writing is from stelae and other stone inscriptions from Maya sites, many of which were already abandoned before the Spanish arrived. The inscriptions on the stelae mainly record the dynasties and wars of the sites' rulers. Also of note are the inscriptions that reveal information about the lives of ancient Maya women. Much of the remainder of Maya hieroglyphics has been found on funeral pottery, most of which describes the afterlife.
Although the archaeological record does not provide examples, Maya art shows that writing was done with brushes made with animal hair and quills. Codex-style writing was usually done in black ink with red highlights, giving rise to the Aztec name for the Maya territory as the "land of red and black".
Scribes held a prominent position in Maya courts. Maya art often depicts rulers with trappings indicating they were scribes or at least able to write, such as having pen bundles in their headdresses. Additionally, many rulers have been found in conjunction with writing tools such as shell or clay inkpots. Although the number of logograms and syllabic symbols required to fully write the language numbered in the hundreds, literacy was not necessarily widespread beyond the elite classes. Graffiti uncovered in various contexts, including on fired bricks, shows nonsensical attempts to imitate the writing system.
In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya used a base 20 (vigesimal) and base 5 numbering system (see Maya numerals). Also, the preclassic Maya and their neighbors had independently developed the concept of zero by 36 BC. Inscriptions show them on occasion working with sums up to the hundreds of millions and dates so large it would take several lines just to represent it.
They produced extremely accurate astronomical observations; their charts of the movements of the moon and planets were used to predict eclipses and other celestial events such the time between conjunctions of Venus. The accuracy of their astronomy and the "theoretical" calendar derived from it was superior to any other known from seventeen hundred years ago.
Uniquely, there is some evidence to suggest the Maya appear to be the only pre-telescopic civilization to demonstrate knowledge of the Orion Nebula as being fuzzy, i.e. not a stellar pin-point. The information which supports this theory comes from a folk tale that deals with the Orion constellation's area of the sky. Their traditional hearths include in their middle a smudge of glowing fire that corresponds with the Orion Nebula. This is a significant clue to support the idea that the Maya detected a diffuse area of the sky contrary to the pin points of stars before the telescope was invented. Many preclassic sites are oriented with the Pleiades and Eta Draconis, as seen in La Blanca, Ujuxte, Monte Alto, and Takalik Abaj.
The Maya were very interested in zenial passages, the time when the sun passes directly overhead. The latitude of most of their cities being below the Tropic of Cancer, these zenial passages would occur twice a year equidistant from the solstice. To represent this position of the sun overhead, the Maya had a god named Diving God.][
The Dresden Codex contains the highest concentration of astronomical phenomena observations and calculations of any of the surviving texts (it appears that the data in this codex is primarily or exclusively of an astronomical nature). Examination and analysis of this codex reveals that Venus was the most important astronomical object to the Maya, even more important to them than the sun.
In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya had measured the length of the solar year to a high degree of accuracy, far more accurately than that used in Europe as the basis of the Gregorian calendar. They did not use this figure for the length of year in their calendars, however; the calendars they used were crude, being based on a year length of exactly 365 days, which means that the calendar falls out of step with the seasons by one day every four years. By comparison, the Julian calendar, used in Europe from Roman times until about the 16th Century, accumulated an error of only one day every 128 years. The modern Gregorian calendar is even more accurate, accumulating only a day's error in approximately 3257 years.
Like the Aztec and Inca who came to power later, the Maya believed in a cyclical nature of time. The rituals and ceremonies were very closely associated with celestial and terrestrial cycles which they observed and inscribed as separate calendars.][ The Maya priest had the job of interpreting these cycles and giving a prophetic outlook on the future or past based on the number relations of all their calendars. They also had to determine if the heavens were propitious for performing certain religious ceremonies.
Although it was not quite as prominent in Mayan culture as the Aztecs, the Maya practiced human sacrifice to an extent. In some Maya rituals people were killed by having their arms and legs held while a priest cut the person's chest open and tore out his heart as an offering. This is depicted on ancient objects such as pictorial texts, known as codices.
Much of the Maya religious tradition is still not understood by scholars, but it is known that the Maya believed that the cosmos had three major planes, the Earth, the underworld beneath and the heavens above.
The Maya underworld is reached through caves and deep tunnels. It was thought to be dominated by the aged Maya gods of death and putrefaction. The Sun (Kinich Ahau) and Itzamna, an aged god, dominated the Maya idea of the sky. Another aged man, god L, was one of the major deities of the underworld.
The night sky was considered a window showing all supernatural doings. The Maya configured constellations of gods and places, saw the unfolding of narratives in their seasonal movements, and believed that the intersection of all possible worlds was in the night sky][.
Maya gods had affinities and aspects that caused them to merge with one another in ways that seem unbounded. There is a massive array of supernatural characters in the Maya religious tradition, only some of which recur with regularity. Good and evil traits are not permanent characteristics of Maya gods, nor is only "good" admirable. What is inappropriate during one season might come to pass in another since much of the Maya religious tradition is based on cycles and not permanence.
The life-cycle of maize lies at the heart of Maya belief. This philosophy is demonstrated on the belief in the Maya maize god as a central religious figure. The Maya bodily ideal is also based on the form of this young deity, which is demonstrated in their artwork. The Maize God was also a model of courtly life for the Classical Maya.
In the 19th century, Maya culture influenced the local forms of Christianity followed in Chan Santa Cruz.
Among the K'iche' in the western highlands of Guatemala the same traditions are used to this day, in the training of the ajk'ij, the keeper of the 260-day-calendar called ch'olk'ij.
The ancient Maya had diverse and sophisticated methods of food production. It was formerly believed that shifting cultivation (swidden) agriculture provided most of their food but it is now thought that permanent raised fields, terracing, forest gardens, managed fallows, and wild harvesting were also crucial to supporting the large populations of the Classic period in some areas. Indeed, evidence of these different agricultural systems persist today: raised fields connected by canals can be seen on aerial photographs, contemporary rainforest species composition has significantly higher abundance of species of economic value to ancient Maya, and pollen records in lake sediments suggest that corn, manioc, sunflower seeds, cotton, and other crops have been cultivated in association with the deforestation in Mesoamerica since at least 2500 BC.
Contemporary Maya peoples still practice many of these traditional forms of agriculture, although they are dynamic systems and change with changing population pressures, cultures, economic systems, climate change, and the availability of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Spanish clergy and administrators dating to the 16th century were largely familiar with ancient Maya sites, writing and calendar systems. Published writings of 16th-century Bishop Diego de Landa and writings of 18th-century Spanish officials spurred serious investigations of Maya sites by the late 18th century. In 1839 United States traveler and writer John Lloyd Stephens, familiar with earlier Spanish investigations, visited Copán, Palenque, and other sites with English architect and draftsman Frederick Catherwood. Their illustrated accounts of the ruins sparked strong popular interest in the region and the people, and they have once again regained their position as a vital link in Mesoamerican heritage.
However, in many locations, Maya ruins have been overgrown by the jungle, becoming dense enough to hide structures just a few meters away. To help find ruins, researchers have turned to satellite imagery. The best way to find them is to look at the visible and near-infrared spectra. Due to their limestone construction, the monuments affected the chemical makeup of the soil as they deteriorated. Some moisture-loving plants stayed away, while others were killed off or discolored. The effects of the limestone ruins are still apparent today to some satellite sensors.
Much of the contemporary rural population of the Yucatán Peninsula, Chiapas (both in Mexico), Guatemala and Belize is Maya by descent and primary language.
There are hundreds of significant Maya sites, and thousands of smaller ones. The largest and most historically important include:
Carlos Mérida, Comandante Ramona
Jesús Tecú Osorio, Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Mayan languages, Spanish, Kriol and English
Christianity (predominantly Roman Catholic, with some Protestants), Maya religion, Islam
The Maya people
constitute a diverse range of the Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The overarching term "Maya" is a collective designation to include the peoples of the region who share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term embraces many distinct populations, societies, and ethnic groups, who each have their own particular traditions, cultures, and historical identity.
There are an estimated 6 million Maya living in this area at the start of the 21st century. Maya of Guatemala, southern Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras have managed to maintain substantial remnants of their ancient cultural heritage. Some are quite integrated into the majority hispanicized Mestizo cultures of the nations in which they reside, while others continue a more traditional culturally distinct life, often speaking one of the Maya languages as a primary language.
The largest populations of contemporary Maya inhabit Guatemala, Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador, as well as large segments of population within the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Chiapas.
One of the largest group of modern Maya can be found in Mexico's Yucatán state and the neighboring states of Campeche and Quitana Roo. They commonly identify themselves simply as "Maya" with no further ethnic subdivision (unlike in the Highlands of Western Guatemala). They speak the language which anthropologists term "Yucatec Maya", but is identified by speakers and Yucatecos simply as "Maya". Among Maya speakers Spanish is commonly spoken as a second or first language. There is a significant amount of confusion as to the correct terminology to use—Maya or Mayan—and the meaning of these words with reference to contemporary or precolumbian peoples, to Mayan peoples in different parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and to languages or peoples. Linguists refer to Maya (language) as Yucatec or Yucatec Maya to disambiguate any confusion with other Mayan languages. This norm has often been misinterpreted to mean that the people are also called Yucatec Maya, but that term only refers to the language and the correct name for the people is simply Maya (not Mayans). Maya is one language in the Mayan language family. Thus, to refer to Maya as Mayans would be similar to referring to Americans as Germanics because they speak a language belonging to the Germanic language family. Further, confusion of the term Maya/Mayan as ethnic label occurs because Maya women who use traditional dress autoidentify by the ethnic term mestiza and not Maya. As well, persons use a strategy of ethnic identitification that Juan Castillo Cocom refers to as "ethnoexodus"—meaning that ethnic self-identification as Maya is quite variable, situational, and articulated not to processes of producing group identity but of escaping from discriminatory processes of sociocultural marginalization.
The Yucatán's indigenous population was first exposed to Europeans after a party of Spanish shipwreck survivors came ashore in 1511. One of the sailors, Gonzalo Guerrero, is reported to have started a family and taken up a position of counsel among a local polity near present-day Chetumal. Later Spanish expeditions to the region were led by Córdoba in 1517, Grijalva in 1518 and Cortés in 1519. From 1528 to 1540, several attempts by Francisco Montejo to conquer the Yucatán failed. His son Francisco de Montejo the Younger fared almost as badly when he first took over: while desperately holding out at Chichen Itza, he lost 150 men in a single day. European diseases, massive recruitment of native warriors from Campeche and Champoton, and internal hatred between the Xiu Maya and the lords of Cocom eventually turned the tide for Montejo the Younger and consequently resulted in the fall of Chichen Itza by 1570. In 1542, the western Yucatán peninsula also surrendered to him.
Historically, the population in the eastern half of the peninsula was less affected by and less integrated with Hispanic culture than that of the western half. Today in the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexican States of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo) between 750,000 and 1,200,000 people speak Mayan. However three times more than that do not speak their native language but are from Maya origins and hold ancient Maya last names, such as Ak, Can, Chan, Be, Cantun, Canche, Chi, Chuc, Coyoc, Dzib, Dzul, Ehuan, Hoil, Hau, May, Tamay, Ucan, Pool, Zapo, etc..
Matthew Restall, in his book The Maya Conquistador
, mentions a series of letters sent to the King of Spain in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The noble Maya families at that time signed documents to the Spanish Royal Family; surnames mentioned in those letters are Pech, Camal, Xiu, Ucan, Canul, Cocom, and Tun, among others.
A large 19th century revolt by the native Maya people of Yucatán (Mexico), known as the Caste War of Yucatán, was one of the most successful modern Native American revolts; results included the temporary existence of the Maya state of Chan Santa Cruz, recognized as an independent nation by the British Empire.
Francisco Luna-Kan was elected governor of the state of Yucatán from 1976 to 1982. Luna-Kan was born in Mérida, Yucatán, and he was a Doctor of medicine, then a Professor of Medicine before his political offices, his first being overseer of the state's rural medical system. He was the first Governor of in the modern Yucatán Peninsula, from a full Maya background. Currently there are dozens of politicians including Deputies, Majors and Senators from a full or mixed Maya heritage from the Yucatán Peninsula.
According to the National Institute of Geography and Informatics (Mexico's INEGI) in Yucatán State there were 1.2 million of Mayan speakers in 2009, representing 59.5% of the inhabitants. Due to this, the cultural section of the government of Yucatán began to give on-line classes for grammar and proper pronunciation of Maya.
Maya People from Yucatán Peninsula living in the United States of America have been organizing Maya language lessons and Maya cooking classes since 2003 in California and other states: clubs of Yucatec Maya are registered in Dallas and Irving, Texas; Salt Lake City in Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada; and California, with groups in San Francisco, San Rafael, Chino, Pasadena, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Inglewood, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, San Fernando Valley and Whittier.
Chiapas was for many years one of the regions of Mexico that were least touched by the reforms of the Mexican Revolution. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation, which launched a rebellion against the Mexican state in Chiapas in January 1994, declared itself to be an indigenous movement and drew its strongest and earliest support from Chiapan Maya, a number of whom still support it today. (see also the EZLN and the Chiapas conflict)
Maya groups in Chiapas include the Tzotzil and Tzeltal, in the highlands of the state, the Tojolabalis concentrated in the lowlands around Las Margaritas, and the Ch'ol in the jungle. (see map)
The most traditional of Maya groups are the Lacandon, a small population avoiding contact with outsiders until the late 20th century by living in small groups in the Lacandon Jungle. These Lacandon Maya came from the Campeche/Petén area (north-east of Chiapas) and moved into the Lacandon rain-forest at the end of the 18th century, 1000 years after the ancient (Pre-Columbian) Maya civilization had disappeared (around 850 A.D).
In the course of the 20th century, and increasingly in the 1950s and 1960s, other people (mainly the Maya and subsistence peasants from the highlands), also entered into the Lacandon region; initially encouraged by the government. This immigration led to land-related conflicts and an increasing pressure on the rainforest. To halt the migration the government decided in 1971 to declare a large part of the forest (614,000 hectares, or 6140 km2) a protected area: the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. They appointed only one small population group (the 66 Lacandon families) as tenants (thus creating the Lacandon Community), thereby displacing 2000 Tzeltal and Ch'ol families from 26 communities, and leaving non-Lacandon communities dependent on the government for granting their rights to land. In the decades that followed the government carried out numerous programs to keep the problems in the region under control, using land distribution as a political tool; as a way of ensuring loyalty from different campesino groups. This strategy of divide and rule led to great disaffection and tensions among population groups in the region.
(see also the Chiapas conflict and the Lacandon Jungle).
The Maya population in Belize is concentrated in the Cayo, Toledo and Orange Walk districts, but they are scattered throughout the country. They are divided into the Yucatec, Kekchi, and Mopan.
The Mexican state of Tabasco is home to the Chontal Maya.
In Guatemala, indigenous people of Maya descent comprise around 40% of the population]
[. The largest and most traditional Maya populations are in the western highlands in the departments of Baja Verapaz, Quiché, Totonicapán, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, and San Marcos; their inhabitants are mostly Maya.
The Maya people of the Guatemala highlands include the Achi, Akatek, Chuj, Ixil, Jakaltek, Kaqchikel, K'iche', Mam, Poqomam, Poqomchi', Q'anjob'al, Q'eqchi', Tz'utujil and Uspantek.The Ke'kchi live in lowland areas of Alta Vera Paz, Peten, and Wetern Belize. The are the 2nd largest ethnic maya group in Guatemala and the largest in Central America. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q%27eqchi%27_people>
In Guatemala, the Spanish colonial pattern of keeping the native population legally separate and subservient continued well into the 20th century]
[. This resulted in many traditional customs being retained, as the only other option than traditional Maya life open to most Maya was entering the Hispanic culture at the very bottom rung. Because of this many Guatemalan Mayans, especially women, continue to wear traditional clothing, that varies according to their specific local identity.
The southeastern region of Guatemala (bordering with Honduras) includes groups such as the Ch'orti'. The northern lowland Petén region includes the Itza, whose language is near extinction but whose agro-forestry practices, including use of dietary and medicinal plants may still tell us much about pre-colonial management of the Maya lowlands.
The Maya people are known for their brightly colored yarn-based textiles, which are woven into capes, shirts, blouses, huipiles and dresses. Each village has its own distinctive pattern, making it possible to distinguish a person's home town on sight. Women's clothing consists of a shirt and a long skirt. Roman Catholicism combined with the indigenous Maya religion are the unique syncretic religion which prevailed throughout the country and still does in the rural regions. Beginning from negligible roots prior to 1960, however, Protestant Pentecostalism has grown to become the predominant religion of Guatemala City and other urban centers and down to mid-sized towns. The unique religion is reflected in the local saint, Maximón, who is associated with the subterranean force of masculine fertility and prostitution. Always depicted in black, he wears a black hat and sits on a chair, often with a cigar placed in his mouth and a gun in his hand, with offerings of tobacco, alcohol, and Coca-cola at his feet. The locals know him as San Simon of Guatemala.
The Popol Vuh is the most significant work of Guatemalan literature in the Quiché language, and one of the most important of Pre-Columbian American literature. It is a compendium of Mayan stories and legends, aimed to preserve Maya traditions. The first known version of this text dates from the 16th century and is written in Quiché transcribed in Latin characters. It was translated into Spanish by the Dominican priest Francisco Ximénez in the beginning of the 18th century. Due to its combination of historical, mythical, and religious elements, it has been called the Maya Bible. It is a vital document for understanding the culture of pre-Columbian America. The Rabinal Achí is a dramatic work consisting of dance and text that is preserved as it was originally represented. It is thought to date from the 15th century and narrates the mythical and dynastic origins of the Kek'chi' people, and their relationships with neighboring people. The Rabinal Achí is performed during the Rabinal festival of January 25, the day of Saint Paul. It was declared a masterpiece of oral tradition of humanity by UNESCO in 2005. The 16th century saw the first native-born Guatemalan writers that wrote in Spanish.
a. Joined to the federation under the name of Federated Republic of Yucatán, included the modern states of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo.
Yucatán (Spanish pronunciation: ), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Yucatán (Spanish: ), is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities, and its capital city is Mérida.
It is located in Southeastern Mexico, on the north part of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is bordered by the states of Campeche to the southwest, Quintana Roo to the northeast and the Gulf of Mexico lies off its north coast.
Before the arrival of Spaniards to the Yucatán Peninsula, the name of this region was el Mayab. In Mayan language, "ma' ya'ab" is translated as "a few". It was a very important region for the Mayan civilization, which reached the peak of its development on this place, where they founded the cities of Chichen Itza, Izamal, Motul, Mayapan, Ek' Balam and Ichcaanzihóo (also called T'Hó), now Mérida.
After the Spanish conquest, Yucatán Peninsula was a single administrative and political entity, the Captaincy General of Yucatán. Following independence and the breakup of the Mexican Empire in 1823, the first Republic of Yucatán was proclaimed which then was voluntarily annexed to the Federal Republic of United Mexican States on December 21, 1823. Later on March 16, 1841, as result of cultural and political conflicts around the federal pact, Yucatán declared independence from Mexico to form a second Republic of Yucatán, but eventually on July 14, 1848, Yucatán was definitely rejoined to Mexico. In 1858, in the middle of the caste war, the state of Yucatan was divided for the first time, establishing Campeche as separate state (officially in 1863). During the Porfiriato, in 1902, the state of Yucatan was divided again to form the Federal territory that later became the present state of Quintana Roo.
Today, Yucatán is the safest state in Mexico and Mérida was awarded City of Peace in 2011.
The name Yucatán, also assigned to the peninsula, came from early explorations of the Conquistadors from Europe. There are reliable versions that the name was result from confusion between the Mayan inhabitants and the first Spanish explorers around 1517:
Probably the first narrator's of "I do not understand" version was the friar Toribio de Benavente, in his book Historia de los indios de la Nueva España (History of the Indians of New Spain) says:
Another version is from Bernal Díaz del Castillo. In his book Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (True History of the Conquest of New Spain), he says Yucatá means "land of yucas", a plant that was cultivated by the Maya and was an important food source for them.
The written history of Yucatán begins after the Spanish conquest. In the distant past, 65 million years ago, a meteorite fell causing a global catastrophe that wiped out dinosaurs, along with other species on earth and formed the Chicxulub crater.
The origin of the first settlements has not been scientifically confirmed, although the presence of first humans in the area dates from the late Pleistocene or ice age (about 10,000 – 12,000 years), according to the findings in the Loltún caves and caverns of Tulum (Women of the Palms).
The first Maya moved to the Peninsula circa 250 CE, from the Petén (today northern Guatemala), to settle the southeastern peninsula in the modern Bacalar, Quintana Roo. In 525, the Chanés (Mayan tribe that preceded the Itza), moved to the east of the peninsula, founding Chichén Itzá, Izamal, Motul, Ek' Balam, Ichcaanzihó (modern Mérida) and Champotón. Later, Tutul xiúes, Toltec descent, who came from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, settled in the region causing displacement of the Itza and Cocomes —a diversified branch of Itzá—, and finally, after years and many battles, was formed Mayapán League (composed of the Itza, the Xiús and Cocomes), that eventually disintegrated circa 1194, giving way to a period of anarchy and fragmentation into small domains which the Spanish conquistadors found in 16th century.
In 1513, Juan Ponce de León had already conquered the island of Borinquén (now Puerto Rico) and had discovered Florida. Antón de Alaminos, who was with Ponce de León on this latest discovery, suspected that in west of Cuba they could find new land. Under their influence, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, supported by the governor of Cuba, organized an expedition commanded by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba to explore the west seas of the island.
This expedition sailed from port of Ajaruco on February 8, 1517, to La Habana and after circling the island and sailing south west by what is now known as the Yucatán Channel, the expedition made landfall at the Yucatán Peninsula on March 1. There are discrepancies about where the first explorers arrived. Some say it was in Isla Mujeres. Bernal Díaz del Castillo places it at Cabo Catoche where they saw a great city which they named the «Gran Cairo».
The conquest of Yucatan was completed two decades after the conquest of Mexico; by Francisco de Montejo "el Adelantado", his son Francisco de Montejo y León "el Mozo" and his nephew, Francisco de Montejo "el Sobrino". El Adelantado was in the expedition of Juan de Grijalva and was with Hernán Cortés in the third expedition that eventually became the Conquest of Mexico. He was subsequently appointed for the conquest of the Maya of Yucatán, but failed in his first attempt in 1527–28. In 1529 he was appointed Governor of Tabasco, with the order to pacify Tabasco and conquer Yucatán and Cozumel.
From Tabasco, Montejo led a new campaign to Yucatán by western (1531–35) and failed again in his attempt. Circa 1535, after many bloody battles with the natives, he reached the complete pacification of the Province of Tabasco and began planning his new foray to Yucatán.
El Adelantado was appointed governor of Honduras and then of Chiapas. Therefore, he gave his son "El Mozo", the mission to consummate the conquest of Yucatán. Francisco de Montejo y León "el Mozo" founded the cities of San Francisco de Campeche on October 4, 1540, and Mérida on January 6, 1542 (in honor of Mérida, Extremadura). The city of Mérida was founded over the ruins of the Mayan city of Ichkanzihóo (T'hó) and were used for the new buildings, the stones of old Mayan pyramids. Later, government powers were changed from Santa María de la Victoria, Tabasco, to Mérida on June 11, 1542. The newly founded Mérida was besieged by the Mayan troops of Nachi Cocom (overlord or 'Halach uinik' in Mayan language). It was a definitive battle for the Conquest of Yucatán. With that victory, the Spaniards consolidated their domain on the west of the peninsula.
Francisco de Montejo "El Adelantado" appointed his nephew, Francisco de Montejo "el Sobrino", the conquest of the eastern Yucatán, which was achieved after many bloody battles, ending with the foundation of the city of Valladolid on May 28, 1543.
Oppressive policies of inequality and prejudice were imposed on the native Mayans by the Spanish colonial government. In November 1761, Jacinto Canek, a Mayan from the town of Cisteil (now located in Yaxcabá Municipality), led an armed uprising against the government, which was quickly put down. Captured insurgents were taken to Mérida, where they were tried and tortured. As a warning to the population against rebellion, Cisteil was burned and covered with salt.
This abortive rebellion was not of great consequence to the colonial regime, but it marked the history of the peninsula and clearly delineated anti-colonial tensions in the region. The uprising was a precursor to the social upheaval that would explode less than a century later, as the Caste War. The Canek rebellion is remembered today as a symbol of the racial and social conflict that predominated for centuries in the Spanish colonies.
Because of its geographical remoteness from the center of New Spain, especially from Mexico City, Yucatán was not militarily affected by the Mexican War of Independence, but the war influenced the enlightened people of Yucatán. In 1820 Lorenzo de Zavala, member of Sanjuanistas (a group of creoles who met at the church of San Juan in downtown Mérida), created the Patriotic Confederation, which eventually divided into two groups: the supporters of the Spanish government under the Cádiz Constitution and another led by Zavala, which sought outright independence from Spain. Mariano Carrillo Albornoz then Governor of Yucatán, sent Zavala and Manuel García Sosa as deputies of the Cádiz Cortes to Madrid, while the other liberals were imprisoned. While this was happening in Yucatán, the Plan of Iguala was proclaimed in the current state of Guerrero (at that time part of the Intendency of Mexico).
On September 15, 1821, in the Hall of Councils of the City of Mérida, Yucatán declares its independence from Spain, almost immediately, Governor Juan María Echeverri sent two representatives to negotiate the incorporation of Yucatán to the Mexican Empire. The incorporation to the Mexican Empire was on November 2, 1821.
The Mexican Empire was quickly overthrown under the Plan of Casa Mata, the provinces of the empire became independent states. The first Republic of Yucatán, declared on May 29, 1823, joined the Federal Republic of the United Mexican States as the Federated Republic of Yucatán on December 23, 1823.
The second Republic of Yucatán[a] emerged when the federal pact signed by Yucatán and endorsed in the Constitution of Yucatán of 1825 was broken by the centralist government of Mexico since 1835. In 1841 the state of Tabasco decreed its separation from Mexico and Miguel Barbachano, then governor of Yucatán, sent a commission headed by Justo Sierra O'Reilly to meet with Tabasco authorities to propose the creation of an independent federal republic from Mexico formed by the two states. The idea failed when Tabasco rejoined Mexico in 1842.
On August 22, 1846, Mexican interim president José Mariano Salas restored the 1824 constitution and the federalism. Two years later, during the government of president José Joaquín de Herrera, Miguel Barbachano ordered the reinstatement of Yucatán to Mexico under the Constitution of Yucatán of 1825. A decisive factor for the reinstatement was the Caste War, which forced Yucatán to seek outside help. In 1852 due to internal struggles between opposing political factions, was created the Territory of Campeche. On April 29, 1863, during the government of Benito Juárez, Campeche gained its current status as an independent state.
The flag of Yucatán was raised on March 16, 1841. The period of the Republic of Yucatán was the only one in which the banner was officially used by the authorities of Yucatán.
Rodolfo Menéndez de la Peña, historian, describes the flag of Yucatán:
The flag doesn't have official recognition in the state, however, it has a strong recognition among the people of the state. De facto state flag, in any case, according to a convention led by former president Ernesto Zedillo, is a white flag with the shield of the state in the middle.
The Caste War of Yucatán was a conflict that lasted from 1847 to 1901. It began with the revolt of native Maya people led by Maya chiefs Jacinto Pat and Cecilio Chi, against the population of European descent called "Yucatecos", who had political and economic control. A lengthy war ensued between the Yucateco forces in the north-west of the Yucatán and the independent Maya in the south-east. It officially ended with the occupation of the Maya capital of Chan Santa Cruz by the Mexican army in 1901, although skirmishes with villages and small settlements that refused to acknowledge Mexican control continued for over another decade.
Adam Jones wrote: "This ferocious race war featured genocidal atrocities on both sides, with up to 200,000 killed."
Because of the conflict, on November 24, 1902, Yucatán had a second territorial division when Porfirio Díaz decreed the creation of the Federal Territory of Quintana Roo, with capital in the port of Payo Obispo (today Chetumal). In little more than half a century, Yucatán lost more than two thirds of its original territory.
In the late 19th century, the henequen industry grew to unprecedented power in the Yucatan. The henequen grown in the Yucatan was used around the world for rope and twine, and became known as sisal rope, named after the seaside town of Sisal, from where the rope was shipped. Today Sisal is a sleepy fishing village, being rediscovered by locals and visitors as a beach location for vacation homes. The henequen industry provided financial autonomy to the isolated Yucatán. The fiber of Henequén plant (known as sosquil (maya: sos kí)) was manufactured into twine and rope, used in riggings, string, sacks, rugs, and many other items. It became the chief export item of the Yucatán, making many local families very wealthy. That wealth is today evident in the architecture of the colonial city of Mérida, as well as in the more than 150 haciendas that are spread throughout the Yucatán Peninsula.
Hundreds of prosperous haciendas abounded in the state until the advent of synthetic products after World War II, the cultivation of Henequén in other parts of the world and the self-serving actions of some of the leading henequen-growing families led to the gradual decline of the Yucatan's monopoly on the industry.
The incredible influx of wealth during that period from the henequn industry focused mainly on Mérida, the capital of Yucatan State. It allowed the city of Mérida to install street lights and a tram system even before Mexico City. It is said that in the early 20th century, the city had the largest number of millionaires per capita in the world. Today, Paseo de Montejo (inspired by the Parisian avenue Champs-Élysées), is lined with the elegant houses built during that time. These houses are mostly now renovated and serve as everything from private homes to banks, hotels and restaurants. Many of the haciendas today have also been renovated and now serve as private homes, event venues and upscale luxury hotels.
Until the mid-20th century most of Yucatán's contact with the outside world was by sea; trade with the USA and Cuba, as well as Europe and other Caribbean islands, was more significant than that with the rest of Mexico. In the 1950s Yucatán was linked to the rest of Mexico by railway, followed by highway in the 1960s, ending the region's comparative isolation. Today Yucatán still demonstrates a unique culture from the rest of Mexico, including its own style of food.
Commercial jet airplanes began arriving in Mérida in the 1960s, and additional international airports were built first in Cozumel and then in the new planned resort community of Cancún in the 1980s, making tourism a major force in the economy of the Yucatán Peninsula.
The first Maya governor of Yucatán, Francisco Luna Kan, was elected in 1976.
Today, the Yucatán Peninsula is a major tourism destination, as well as home to one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico, the Maya people.
The State of Yucatán is located on the Yucatán Peninsula. It borders the states of Campeche to the southwest, Quintana Roo to the east and southeast, and the Gulf of Mexico to the north and west. As a whole, the state is extremely flat with little or no topographic variation, with the exception of the Puuc hills, located in the southern portion of the state.
The Constitution of Yucatán provides that the government of Yucatán, like the government of every other state in Mexico, consists of three powers: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.
Executive power rests in the governor of Yucatán, who is directly elected by the citizens, using a secret ballot, to a six-year term with no possibility of reelection. Legislative power rests in the Congress of Yucatán which is a unicameral legislature composed of 25 deputies. Judicial power is invested in the Superior Court of Justice of Yucatán.
The State of Yucatán is divided into 108 municipalities, each headed by a municipal president (mayor). Usually municipalities are named after the city that serves as municipal seat; e.g. the municipal seat of the Municipality of Mérida is the City of Mérida.
The most recent local election in Yucatán was held on May 20, 2007. (See main article: Yucatán state election, 2007.)
The most widespread indigenous language of Yucatán is Yucatec Maya, spoken natively by approximately 800,000 people in Yucatán and adjacent Quintana Roo and Campeche, especially in rural areas. The Spanish spoken in Yucatán has lexical and some phonological borrowing from Mayan and employs many words of Mayan origin, such as purux ("fat"), tuch ("navel") and wixar ("urinate").
Yucatecan food is its own unique style and is very different from what most people would consider Mexican food. It includes influences from the local Mayan culture, as well as Caribbean, European (Spanish), (North) African, and Middle Eastern cultures, as well as influence from the cuisine of other parts of Mexico.
There are many regional dishes. Some of them are:
Yucatec Maya language
Tabasco (Spanish pronunciation: ), officially Free and Sovereign State of Tabasco (Spanish: ), is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 17 municipalities and its capital city is Villahermosa. It is located in the southeast of the country along the Gulf of Mexico bordering the states of Campeche, Chiapas and Veracruz, as well as the country of Guatemala. Most of the state is covered in rainforest as, unlike most other areas of Mexico, it has plentiful rainfall year round. For this reason, it is also covered in small lakes, wetlands and rivers. The state is subject to major flooding events, with the last occurring in 2007, which affected eighty percent of the state. The state is also home to La Venta, the major site of the Olmec civilization, considered to be the origin of later Mesoamerican cultures. Even though it produces significant quantities of petroleum and natural gas, poverty is still a concern. The state is also the origin of the cocoa bean, from which chocolate is made.
The state is located in the southeast of Mexico, bordering the states of Campeche, Chiapas and Veracruz with the Gulf of Mexico to the north and the country of Guatemala to the south and east. The state covers 24,731km2, which is 1.3% of Mexico’s total. The northwestern portion is on the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico with the south and east as part of the mountain chain that extends into northern Chiapas. It is divided into seventeen municipalities. There are 36 communities designated as urban with about 3,000 smaller towns and villages. 185 are classified as “regional development centers.” Tabasco has seventeen municipalities: Balancán, Cárdenas, Centla, Centro (Villahermosa), Comalcalco, Cunduacán, Emiliano Zapata, Huimanguillo, Jalapa, Jalpa de Méndez, Jonuta, Macuspana, Nacajuca, Paraíso, Tacotalpa, Teapa and Tenosique.
In 1994, the state was officially divided into two regions, five sub regions for socioeconomic development and geographic documentation. The two major regions are called the Grijalva and the Usumacinta. The Grijalva Region is named after the river on which most of the municipalities here are dependent. It is the smaller of the two regions with a territory of 12,069,34km2 or 48.94% of the state’s territory; however, it contains most of Tabasco’s urban population as well as socioeconomic and political activity. It is divided into three sub regions called Chontalpa, Centro and Sierra and includes the municipalities of Huimanguillo, Cárdenas, Comalcalco, Cunduacán, Paraíso, Jalpa de Méndez, Nacajuca, Centro, Jalapa, Teapa and Tacotalpa. The Usumacinta Region is named after the main river on which the Centla, Jonuta, Emiliano Zapata, Balancán and Tenosique municipalities depend. It is divided into the Pantanos and Ríos subregions, which are both more rural than the Grijalva Region.
The environment of the state consists of extensive low lying floodplains, mountains and valleys. Most of the territory is covered in tropical rainforest and wetlands. There are also areas with savanna, beaches and mangrove forests. Much of the rainforest has suffered degradation due to over logging and conversion of territory into farmland. The east is formed by low humid plains formed by sediment deposited by a number of rivers. In the Chontalpa zone and in parts of the municipalities of Cental and Jonuta, there are swampy depressions extremely vulnerable to flooding from both river flow and from excessive rainfall. In the south there are some elevations which are part of the central mesa of Chiapas. The most important of these is El Madrigal, La Campana, La Corona, Pomaná, Coconá, Mono Pelado and El Tortuguero. However, most hills in the state do not exceed thirty meters above sea level.
Tabasco has 198.8 km of shoreline, 29,800 hectares of estuaries, lakes and numerous rivers and streams. Major rivers include the Mezcalapa, Pichucalco, Chacamax, Usumacinta, San Pedro y San Pablo and Tonalá. Almost all of the river system of the state belongs to the Usumacinta River based, the largest in Mexcio and the Grijalva River basin, the second largest. These basins encompass numerous rivers and streams which all eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The only rivers outside these basins are the Tonalá, on the border between Tabasco and Veracruz and some small rivers in Chontalpa. On the coastline, there are numerous lagoons and some inland lakes. The most important of these are El Carmen, Pajonal, La Machona and Mecoacán. Because of the flat terrain, there are areas where rivers pool due to shallow depressions. The total volume of fresh water flow in the state is about 125,000,000,000m3 with is about 35% of the flow of the entire country. Flooding is a frequent occurrence, especially September and November.
There are four principle ecosystems in the state: tropical rainforest, tropical savannah, beaches and wetlands. Tropical rainforest dominates most of the state due to the high levels of rainfall the area receives. However, what exists today is only a fraction of what used to be, as much of the forest area has been overexploited by man, mostly through logging and slash and burn agriculture. Most the intact rainforest if found in the municipalities of Tenosique, Balancán, Macuspana, Teapa, Tacotalpa, Cárdenas and Huimanguillo. These rainforests contain species such as mahogany, cedar, various types of palms, “macayo,” ceiba, willows and many more. There are various types of orchids native to the state along with a native species of cactus. This environment also has the widest variety of wildlife, such as macaws, parrots, quetzals, hummingbirds, iguanas, and various kinds of snakes. Mammal species have declined because of deforestation, but still include spider monkeys, jaguars, pumas, raccoons, anteaters, deer, and wild boar. Tropical savannah is mostly found in the southern part of the state, mixed in with areas of rainforest. These areas are dominated by grasses and bushes along with some smaller trees such as jahuacte, cocoyol and small palm trees. The savanna has wildlife such as rabbits, deer, foxes various species of birds. Along the coast the soil is sandier and while the vegetation is still tropical, species are different than in the interior rainforest. They include coconut palms, palo mulato, royal palm and pimento de Tabasco. These areas has suffered most from slash and burn agriculture. Along these areas of forest are the beaches and wetlands of the state. The beach areas are dominated by ground vegetation which is able to tolerate the high salinity of the soil. The wetlands are dominated by the most extensive mangrove forests in Mexico, concentrated on the lagoons that border the Mezcalcpa River along with the banks of the Tonalá, San Pedro y San Pablo and Grijalva rivers. There are four main types of mangroves locally called red, white, black and “prieto.” Most of the wetlands of the state belong to the Pantanos de Centla Biosphere Reserve. The abundance of fresh water in wetlands and river areas supports a wide variety of aquatic life such as freshwater gar, mojarra, crocodiles, various species of turtles and frogs, and many species of native and migratory waterfowl. In larger bodies of water manatees can be found. In the brackish and salt water lagoons various ocean species are found along with shellfish and mollusks along with bird species such as seagulls and pelicans.
Tabasco has a hot tropical climate, with the Gulf of Mexico having significant influence on weather patterns. Over 95% of the state’s territory has a hot, wet climate. The rest is hot and semi humid, located in the far northeast of the state. The average annual temperature is 27C with high temperatures averaging 36C, mostly in May and lows of 18.5C which present in January. Unlike many parts of Mexico, Tabasco has abundant year round precipitation. The state receives an average annual rainfall of 2,550mm. Rain occurs all year but is particularly heavy from June to October. The flat areas of the state are subject to frequent flooding. One reason for this is the rivers that flow from the Sierra region and the Usuamacinta River. Another is that there are a number of dams such as the Angostura, Chicoasén, Malpas and Peñitas, built for hydroelectricity and flood control but can overflow.
The state has 17,138.2 hectares of state protected lands such as the Agua Blanca waterfalls and the Sierra State Park in Teapa. The Grutas de Coconá caves are classified as a natural monument with 422 hectares. The Centla Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 302,706 hectares. The Yumká Park and Laguna de las Ilusiones Ecological Reserves have 1,973.6 hectares. The Laguna de la Lima Reserve has 36.2 hectares. The Chontalpa Ecological Park has 277 hectares. The Laguna del Camarón Ecological Park has 70 hectares.
The name Tabasco is not definitively known with a number of theories debated among linguists. The name appears in the chronicles of Bernal Díaz del Castillo during the conquest era, who says it comes from the name of a river in the area. One possible etymology is that it comes from a Mayan phrase meaning “our lord of the eight tigers.” Another states that it is from Nahuatl with two possible derivations: one meaning “place that has a lord” and the other “place where the land is moist.” The state seal is that which was granted in 1598 to the town of Villahermosa, then called San Juan Bautista by Philip II of Spain. This is one of the oldest coats of arms in the Americas.
The Olmec civilization dominated much of what is now Tabasco 3,000 years ago, with its height around 800 BCE. They were the oldest Mesoamerican culture which dominated areas in what are now the states of Mexico, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Tabasco as well as parts of Central America, and considered to be the founding culture for all of Mesoamerica. The main Olmec site in Tabasco is La Venta. The site covers an area of 5.3km2 surrounded by swamps and marshes linked to the Tonalá River, 15 km from the Gulf of Mexico. Around 300 CE, the Mayas began to dominate part of the state. Mayan sites include Comalcalco, Pomoná, El Tortuguero and Jonuta. (prehispánico) The Mayans in Tabasco reached their peak between the 6th and 7th centuries.
In the early 16th century, the main ethnicities of Tabasco were the Mayas-Chontals, the Zoques and the Popolocas, living in small villages with the Mayan language dominating. The first contact with the Spanish came in 1518 when an expedition headed by Captain Juan de Grijalva disembarked at the mouth of the river that now bears his name. Hernán Cortés came the following year and fought the indigenous here at the Battle of Centla. As conqueror, Cortés received twenty female slaves, one of which was La Malinche.
Despite the early conquest and the foundation of Santa María de la Victoria (today Frontera), the territory was not fully subjugated because of the climate, terrain and lack of minerals. The Franciscans arrived in the 16th century for evangelization purposes, but they did not stay. For this reason, the indigenous of this area was not generally converted to Catholicism unlike other parts of New Spain . Tabasco was a landing and crossing point for the conquest of southern Mexico and Guatemala, referenced by Hernán Cortés in one of his letters to the Spanish Crown. It was noted by him and by Bernal Díaz del Castillo for its abundance of cacao. The first to have success was Francisco de Montejo (Jr.) in the 1540s who assumed command of the city as part of the province of the Yucatán, governed by his father. Montejo introduced the first cattle to Tabasco.(etapasgob) The
introduction of European diseases decimated the local population, forcing the Spanish to bring in African slaves to work plantations. This led to some mixing among the three races which has affected the ethnic appearance of the people of the state. Significant agricultural production was not achieved until the 18th century, primarily in cacao and cattle. During this time, sea traffic to Villahermosa increased which made it a relatively important port. For the rest of the colonial period, most of Tabasco would have no major events and no major commerce in comparison to the rest of the country.
The Spanish did not begin to pacify the area until the second half of the 16th century, when Santa María de la Victoria was secured slightly inland from the original Frontera location. However, in the meantime, the English had taken possession of the nearby Isla del Carmen and other points in the Gulf for piracy. Santa María de la Victoria was attacked and sacked, forcing the settlement to move inland in 1598 to San Juan Bautista (Today Villahermosa), renamed Villa Hermosa by the Spanish Crown, which gave it the oldest coat of arms on the American mainland, today the seal of the state of Tabasco. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Tabasco and Veracruz united to combat the pirate threat, succeeded in expelling them from the Isla del Carmen. The city returned to its original and current location in 1795. At that time, the entire state had a population of only 36,000 in two towns, two villages, and various ranches and farms. The province sent a delegate to Spain to complain about the marginalization of the area to the Crown.
The first insurgent during the Mexican War of Independence in the state was José María Jiménez, who declared the state’s independence in 1815. However, Jiménez was soon jailed and local authorities proclaimed allegiance to the Crown. At the end of the war in 1821, Tabasco became of the first fourteen states under the 1824 Constitution. The first state constitution was ratified in 1825. In 1883, the state was divided into seventeen municipalities.
The struggle between Liberals, who wanted a federal government, and Conservatives, which wanted a centralized government, played out in Tabasco with various skirmishes between Ruiz de la Peña leading the Liberals and Marcelino Margalli for the Conservatives. In 1829, the military in Campeche revolted against Mexico City and proclaimed its own government. Shortly after, Tabasco joined the movement and proclaimed a Conservative government. However, this government was short lived. Political instability in the state and an outbreak of cholera forced Tabasco to rejoin the federation. In 1836, a group of Conservatives took control of the federal government, but Tabasco liberals decided to rebel against this government until they were defeated.
During the Mexican American War, troops under Matthew C. Perry arrived to Tabasco in 1846. Other ships arrived soon after and the troops took possession of the port of Frontera. On their first attempt to take Villahermosa upriver, they failed. The second attempt bombarded the city before successfully taking it. However, the Tabascans formed guerilla groups and this along with the inhospitable climate forced the U.S. military to withdraw soon after. For the rest of the war, ships remained in the Frontera area to block commerce. After the Americans left, Tabasco governor Justo Santa Anna rebelled against Mexico City due to the lack of support during the war. The Americans returned in 1847 to attack the capital. It was defended by local troops but they did not have the necessary supplies. The Americans occupied the capital for another thirty five days, causing great destruction.
During the French Intervention in Mexico, the French took Villahermosa in 1862 installing a governor in 1862. Tabasco forces retreated into the mountains. Meanwhile Various Tabascans formed a newspaper called El Dissidente, which criticized the French installed government. There were several insurrections against this government such as the one headed by Andrés Sanchez Magallanes in 1863. He raised a small army from various parts of the state and attacked the imperial army barracks in Comalcalco then moved onto Villahermosa in November 1863. Here they encountered imperialist troops at what is now called the Battle of Jahuactal, where the insurgents won, expelling the French from the state.
The Porfirio Díaz period from the 1880s to 1910 were free from political violence and allowed the state to build infrastructure, but slowly due to its isolation. The capital, heavily damaged by decades of war, was reconstructed, with many old buildings torn down to make way for new ones. In 1879, the Instituto Juárez was inaugurated. In 1881, telegraph service connected Villahermosa with Mexico City. The capital received electricity in 1890, with the new state government palace opened in 1894 and the first bank in 1901. Tabasco experienced significant economic development during the Diaz period in the late 19th century, with cacao and other products shipped worldwide. However, this development led to wide scale deforestation began in the latter decades of the 19th century with timber companies cutting large areas of rainforest.
While Díaz remained in power, Tabasco governor Abraham Bandala also remained from 1894 to 1910, re-elected to office sixteen times. Timber and agriculture made the elite in the state rich, with most of the rest of the population workers indebted to their employers. The technological progress was accompanied by poor and even slave-like conditions for many workers. This fueled resentment in the state and the rest of the country. This resentment led to the Mexican Revolution. In 1879, the first institute of higher education, the Instituto Juárez, was opened. During this time period, a woman by the name of Salomé Marín Virgilio founded schools in Balancán to teach workers to read and write along with liberal political ideas. Her work would later inspire José María Pino Suárez.
Anti Díaz sentiment began in the decade of 1900 with efforts to keep Bandala from being re-elected. The first vocal opponent to the Díaz regime in Tabasco was local journalist Domingo Borrego. In Huimangullo, Chontalpa, the first “Club Anti reelection Melchor Ocampo” was formed to oppose the government but it was disbanded quickly. By 1909, there were a number of large protests in the state which led to the formation of the Gutierrista Party, headed by Ignacio Gutierrz Gomes along with two brothers. These and others in the state joined forces politically with Francisco I. Madero and a new Club Anti-reelecionista was formed in Huimanguillo. These efforts succeeded in getting Bandala reelected, replacing him with Policarpo Valenzuela, calming the situation in the state for a short while. After Madero was assassinated, the politics of the state fractured, with various factions vying for the governor’s position leading to insurrection and frequent government changes who were allied with the various armies vying for power nationally.
Another important episode in the history of the state was the governorship of Tomás Garrido Canabal after the end of the Revolution. He was elected in 1922, allied with Mexican presidents Obregón and later Calles. As such, he implemented an ambitious socialist program, organizing unions and consolidating power though his Radical Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Radical). He reestablished the state’s teachers’ college and established a system of rural schools. Livestock raising increased and general economic levels rose. He prohibited the production and sale of alcoholic beverages in the state. An atheist, he persecuted the Catholic Church, destroying various churches including the Tabasco Cathedral. Events relating to this were portrayed in the novel The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. He organized “cultural assemblies with the aim of persuading people away from religion, sometime burning images of saints. He even forbade the use of crosses on graves and changed the names of towns and ranches to rid them of religious reference. Unlike other parts of the country, there was little resistance against this repression of the church and the success of Garrido’s dissuading left a vacuum, which was later filled by missionaries from Protestant and Evangelical groups. His tenure as governor ended in 1935, when he was appointed the federal Secretary of Agriculture and he appointed Aureo L. Calles to take over. Opponents of Garrido declared this a violation of due process and held their own elections. Supporters of Garrido tried to stop the election resulting in shooting and twelve dead.
In the 1950s, Carlos A. Madrazo became governor who promoted large public works, agricultural and industrial projects and initiated exploration for petroleum. The highway along the Gulf Coast linking eastern Tabasco with Veracruz and the Yucatan Peninsula was completed in 1956. During the same decade, a museum dedicated to the La Venta archeological site was founded by Carlos Pellicer .
In the 1960s and 1970s, the educational system was modernized, instituting free breakfasts for students. Infrastructure projects improved or created docks, roads, monuments and sporting facilities mostly in the capital and municipal seats. Agriculture was the focus of programs called Plan Chontalpa and Plan Balacán-Tenosique and free health care clinics were built in rural areas.
Oil and natural gas were discovered at this time and in 1974, the development of these resources began. The petroleum boom produced great wealth, but there has been disputes over the money earned from the facilities owned by PEMEX, the nation’s oil company. The industry has put pressure on the state’s infrastructure, housing and supplies of basic necessities. New roads, bridges and a modern airport have been constructed with oil money, along with a Centro de Investigaciones de la Cultura Olmeca y Maya, el Teatro del Estado, a planetarium and a convention center in the capital. The PEMEX facilities have caused environmental damage, and damage to local farmers’ crops. There have been issues related to the breaking of environmental laws, but corruption and the lack of legal jurisdiction outside of the federal government, which owns PEMEX, has hampered efforts to sue for enforcement. In 1996, hundreds of blockades of installations were carried out by locals with the active support of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The most notable was the blocking of the bridge to the Sen oil field. It was broken up by police but the following month 30,000 marched on Villahermosa to protest. The friction between the populace and the government over oil and other issues led to some political restructuring in the state. This was accompanied with general dissatisfaction with the ruling party, the PRI, nationwide. Reforms to decentralize power away from Villahermosa was undertaken but in the 1990s, political instability remained with farmers, ranchers and others continuing to complain about how PEMEX was affecting their economic activities.
Flooding has historically been an issue in the state, which has year round heavy rainfall and various rivers flowing through it. Villahermosa was founded on a hill between the Sierra and Grijalva River. The growth of the city from the 1970s on has brought development down from the hill onto the floodplains. Recent major flooding includes events in 1975, 1990 and 1999. The last prompted the creation of the Programa Integral de Control de Inundaciones (Integral Program for Flood Control) to build dams, dikes and other flood control measures. These were in process of construction when the 2007 floods hit. From October 28 to 30, unusually heavy rainfall caused the Grijalva River to rise, overflowing the Peñitas Dam, as well as other area rivers. This eventually covered about eighty percent of the state’s territory as deep as four meters in places, affecting over a million people. The flood damage was made worse by the presence of human settlements on flood plains and the lack of hydraulic infrastructure on the Sierra and Usumacinta rivers. There was also a lack of warning system for those downriver or evacuations plans.
In the 1990s, various technical colleges were established in the state along with the Universidad Popular de la Chontalpa and another in Tenosique. Hospital in various municipalities and various historic centers were reconstructed, especially that of Villahermosa.
The state accounts for 3.4% of Mexico’s national GDP. Although the recent oil boom has helped to bring the state out of complete poverty, there is still areas in which this is a serious problem. In the city areas coverage of running water, sewerage and electricity is over ninety percent; however, in the rural areas, running water is about forty percent, sewerage under seventy percent and electricity under 85%. The state has about 150,000 families or about half a million people living in poverty, mostly due to lack of employment according to Sedesol. Most of the state’s poor are concentrated in the Jonuta, Tacotalpa, Centla and Humanguillo municipalities as these lack any major industry.
The heavy rainfall in the state does not lend itself well to annual crops and frequent flooding is a problem as well. Despite this, there is significant production of corn, sorghum and beans. Most of the commercially important crops are perennials, such as cacao, coconut, oranges, bananas and sugar cane. There is also important pasture, both natural and seeded. The state has extensive areas of natural grasslands. Due to the climate, the Zebu breed of cattle does best and is mostly raised for meat. Cattle accounts for about three quarters of the meat produced in the state. Other livestock includes pigs, sheep, goats and domestic fowl. Most livestock is raised in the Villahermosa, Cárdenas and Emiliano Zapata municipalities.
Tabasco has salt water and fresh water fishing along its shoreline and in the many rivers and small lakes but they are not extensively exploited, providing less than two percent of Mexico’s total fish production. Commercial species include oysters, mojarra, shrimp, sea bass, shark, lobster and pejalagarto. Most fishing fleets are located in Frontera, with others in Sanchez Magallanes, Chilitepec and Dos Bocas. The state has natural resources such as mahogany, cedar and other tropical hardwoods.
Mining, mostly of petroleum and natural gas, provides most of the state’s GDP. Only 14.6% of the working population is in mining. About 19% work in construction, transportation and manufacturing. Most manufacturing is food processing, bottling and tobacco products. About ninety percent of industrial establishments are family owned, mostly dedicated to food processing in and around Villahermosa. The most important industry is petroleum refining, done by PEMEX in the Macuspana municipality. There are 860 wells in various municipalities extracting crude oil and natural gas. It produces 556,371 barrels of crude oil and a 1,363 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. It has deposits of gravel and sand, along with the Cementos Apasco factory.
Just over 61% of the working population is employed in services and commerce. There are 86 traditional public markets. The Tabasco Fair is the most important commercial event. It has its origins in 1880. It has been held on and off since then in various locations. Today, it is held in Villahermosa at Parque Tabasco 2000 where the various municipalities of the state demonstrate their products. The current event also features cultural and sporting events as well.
Tourism in the state is organized into various routes. The Centro or Villahermosa Route is centered on the state capital with its museums and historic buildings. These include the Cultural Center of Villahermosa, Regional Anthropology Museum, Tomás Garrido Canabal Park, the Yumka’ Ecological Reserve, The Paseo Tabasco Malecon Tourist Corridor, the Papagayo Interactive Museum and the Tabasco Cathedral.
The Cacao Route consists of various cacao haciendas, where guides give lessons on how the plant is cultivated and the cacao bean is harvested, then processed into chocolate. It also includes a visit to the Comalcalco archeological site. The Cacao Route focuses on the municipalities of Nacajuca, Jalpa de Méndez, Comalcalco and Paraíso. In Nacajuca, located on the river of the same name, the main attractions are its boardwalk area, handcrafts and surrounding Chontal villages such as Tucta, Mazateupa, Oxiacaque, Tecoluta and Guatacalca, where many customs and the Chontal language are preserved. In Jalpa de Méndez, the main attractions are its gourd handcrafts, the San Remo cigar factory, the La Encantada Turtle Farm and the Pomposú Juliva Wetlands on the Mezcalapa River. In Comalcalco, attractions include the Comalcalco archeological site, cacao haciendas such as La Luz with its Cacao Museum, Jesús María, La Chonita and Cholula. Paraíso is a small port with beaches and some resort facilities.
The River Route is based in the interior portion of the state, between the Grijalva and Usumacinta Rivers. This is an ecotourism route with activities such as canopy climbing, rafting and rappelling. There is also an option to visit the Ponomá archeological site. The River Route is on the interior portion of the state. It includes the Cascadas de Reforma Ecological Reserve, the Reforma Mayan archeological site, the Dr. José Gómez Pánaco Museum, the El Popalillo Lake and the Ribera de Acallán lookout point.
The Wetlands Route emphasizes flora and fauna both on land and on the water. The main attraction if the Centla Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is home to a wide variety of wildlife species such as herons, storks, ibis, crocodiles, fresh water turtles, manatees and more. There is also over 500 species of plants with some of the most important concentration of aquatic plants in Mesoamerica. Other attractions include the Centla maritime port, the Museum of Navigation, the town of Frontera (where the Spanish founded the first European settlement on mainland America) and the Punta Manglar Ecotourism facility. Beaches in the area include Pico de Oro, Playa Azul, Miramar and El Bosque.
The Mountain Adventure Route is in the highlands of the state with its forests, sulphurate waters and caves, centered on the town of Tapijulapa, which is noted for its handcrafts of wood and wicker. It features the hills, rainforest, sulfur springs and caves in the Teapa, Tacotalpa and Macuspana municipalities. Sites include he Río Puyacateno Park, Los Azufres Hacienda and Spa, the José Natividad Correa Tosca Museum and Coconá Caverns. Ecotourism activities include spelunking, rappelling and hiking.
The Olmec Zoque Route encompasses the municipalities of Cardenas and Huimanguillo. Cardenas is near the ocean with various attractions. One is the fishing village of Villa Sánchez Magallenes. Huimanguillo has archeological sites and a number of natural attractions. The best known is La Venta, an Olmec site but another important one is Malpasito, which belongs to the Zoque culture. In addition, there are areas of tropical rainforest, waterfalls, petroglyphs and lakes.
The Biji Yokot’an Route centers on the municipality of Nacajuca. It features the crafts of the area such as decorated containers made from gourds, its cuisine, especially river fish, the Chontal people of the area and the river boardwalk.
In 1990 the population was 1,501,744, and in 1995 it was 1,748,767. A 16.45% increase. In 2005, the population was 1,989,969. Tabasco’s population is mostly young, with an average age of 19 years and over 38% of the population is under 15 years of age.
57% lives in urban areas in contrast to 78% of Mexico’s population in general. Those who leave the state mostly go to Quintana Roo, Campeche and Veracruz. Those that migrate to the state mostly come from Chiapas, Veracruz and Campeche. As of the 2000s, only about 2% of the population has left to live abroad, mostly to the United States. The national average is 16%. Three percent of the population speaks an indigenous language, which is lower than the national average of six percent. Most speak the Tabascan dialect of the Chontal language. This is followed by Ch’ol, Tzeltal, Maya, Zapoteco, Nahuatl and Tzotzil.
Traditional masculine dress consists of a white shirt and pants, with black boots or shoes, black belt, a hat in a style called “chontal” and a red handkerchief around the neck. This dress is based on an older style of dress called “traje choco” which was made of cotton cloth called manta used to work in the fields. Traditional feminine dress consists of a wide skirt trimmed with a ruffle. Under the skirt is a slip designed to fluff the skirts appearance and made the waist look smaller. The blouse is white with an embroidered band in bright colors often with flower and/or animal designs. It has short sleeves ending in a square form in the lower part. The woman often carried a small handkerchief and a shawl called a rebozo in bright colors, often complementing the skirt. The shoes are black.
The state has a number of unique traditional dances due to its relative isolation from the rest of the country. These include “El Gigante” of Nacajuca performed on 14 August. “Baila Viejo” is performed in Tucta and Guaytalpa in the municipality of Nacajuca as well as the Atasta de Serra in Villahermosa. “El Pochó” is of pre Hispanic origin and performed during Carnival in Tenosique. “Los Blanquitos” is also performed in Tenosique and symbolized the struggled of black slaves during the colonial period. “El Caballito Blanco” depicts the struggles of the indigenous against the Spanish at the Battle of Centla. “El Zapateo” is said to be derived from the fandango, brought to the area by a conquistador called Ortíz de Séquito. It is considered to be the regional dance of the state.
Traditional music has its origins in the Olmec period with other indigenous influences such as those of the Maya, Mexicas and Nahuas. It is based on flute and percussion, including drums made of tortoise shells and flutes/whistles made of ceramic. Purely indigenous music has almost entirely disappeared, replaced by that of European influence. Fandango influence was the first to arrived, which was modified then called fandanguillo leading to songs called zapateos in the colonial period, played by small orchestras. These were mostly composed of wind instruments but the marimba and drums called temborileros were added. This music was accompanied by a dance of the same name. Later, short improvised rhymes called “bombas” were added varying by region often consisting of a man and woman answering each other.
The cuisine is based on the foods of the ancient Mayas and Chontals, using plants and animals native to the region such as achiote, chili peppers, chipilin and banana leaves, with corn and beans serving as the base. (amashito) Traditionally, people in Tabasco eat seven times a day, these meals are called “puntal” (after getting out of bed), breakfast, “refigerio,” “apertivo,” “comida,” “merienda” and “cena.” This regime is based on rural work customs which required starting the day before the sun rose. Typical dishes include those with iguana meat, Lepisosteus fish, beef puchero, smoked oysters, totopostes, pork with beans and tortillas made with banana and fresh corn. Chocolate is still found in preparations which have not changed since pre Hispanic times mostly as hot and cold beverages. The most common cold chocolate beverage is pozol, served fresh or fermented. Each of the regions has certain specialties. Teapa is known for its cheese and longaniza sausage. Jalpa de Méndez produces head cheese, longaniza sausage and another cured meat called butifarra. Macuspana’s dishes are often based on ingredients from the area’s rivers such as bass, turtle and Lepisosteus. Paraíso is known for its oysters, often cooked in their shell over an open flame. Jalapa is known for its sweets such as sweetened fruits in corn husks, often accompanied by a cacao and corn beverage called chorote.
Tabasco is host to the boating marathon called the Mundo Maya on the Usumacinta and Grijalva rivers.
The state has sixteen important museums. Most are located in the Villahermosa area but others can be found in Comalcalco, Huimanguillo, Balancán, Emiliano Zapata, Jalpa de Méndez, Jonuta and Teapa. These include the Carlos Pellicer Museum (anthropology) Museum of Popular Culture, Museum of History and the La Venta site museum.
Patron saint days are still popular events in the state, with some of the more notable being San Isidro in Comalcalco and Nacajuca, the Apostle James in Chontalpa, Our Lady of the Remedies in Nacajuca, Our Lady of the Assumption in Cupilco, Francis of Asissi in Tamulté de las Sabanas, events related with Lent in Atasta and Tamulté and the Saint Sebastian in Tenosique. There are also notable Carnival celebrations in Pochó, Tenosique and Villahermosa.
La Venta was the most important civic-religious center of the Olmec civilization, the first major culture of Mesoamerica. The site shows a number of the characteristics of Olmec culture, including depictions of jaguars, colossal heads and images of figures of rotund children. The site dates back to about 1000 BCE and declined around 400 CE, replaced in importance by San Lorenzo. The museum associated with La Venta is in Villahermosa proper called Parque Museo de la Venta. It contain thirty three major pieces from the site and includes displays about Olmec customs, government, astronomy and writing. This park was created in the 1950s by writer Carlos Pellicer to protect the most important pieces of the archeological site. There are also exhibits on the flora and fauna of the area.
Comalcalco is a Maya archeological site near the modern city of the same name, on a bank of the Mezcalapa River. While it is not the only Mayan city whose monumental architecture is of adobe brick instead of stone, it is the only one which has had extensive reconstruction, open to the public. The Mayas here used adobe because of the lack of building stone in the area, instead using the abundant clay and lime extracted from shells. The Mayan city developed between 800 and 1100 CE, contemporary with Palenque and Yaxchilan. The name of the site comes from Nahuatl and means place of comals (a kind of cooking pan), but its Mayan name was Hoi Chan, which means cloudy sky. The site covers 577 hectares and with a total of 282 structures. The main monuments are La Plaza Norte, La Gran Acropolis and the Eastern Acropolis.
Malpasito is located near the modern settlement of the same name. This site is related to the Zoque culture and was at its height between 250 to 400 CE. To date, the site is only partially explored. The structures of the site rest on a series of artificial terraces with twenty seven mounds. These structures include a Mesoamerican ball court, a main plaza and a sunken patio. Another feature of the site is sixty petroglyphs.
Pomoná is a Mayan site discovered in 1959. The city was established in the Classic period achieving its height in the late Classic and falling in the early Post Classic. It is on the Usumacinta River, giving it an important role in the political and economic relations of the time as many ocean products passed through here on their way to the Peten area. Its original name is not known and it is currently named after a nearby modern settlement. It has six important groups of buildings with residential areas extending over 175 hectares.
Reforma is also known as Morales or Moral. There is little information about this Mayan sites but it had an established ruling lineage by 633 CE and was tied politically and economically with Pomoná, Palenque and Bonampak. The main plazas with their ceremonial structures are similar to those found in Tikal and the towers of Río Bec. There are seven principle structures surrounded by numerous smaller ones. Many of the stele from the site can be found at the José Gómez Panaco Museum in the nearby city of Balancán.
The state’s population growth has put pressure on the educational system with about forty percent of its population school age. The average schooling in Tabasco has climbed from 2.7 years in 1970 to 6.7 years in 1995. In the same time period, the level percentage of the population which was illiterate fell from 25.7% to 11%. Today, the average schooling is 8.6 years or the third year of middle school, which is the national average.
As of the 2008/2009 school year, the state has 4,910 primary and middle school. Primary and middle school education is ranked next to last of all federal entities. It has 269 high schools and vocational school, ranking 30th of 32. It has 57 colleges and universities, ranking next to last. The state has sixteen major institutes of higher education, with four universities, three technological colleges, seven teachers’ colleges an “instituto de estudios superiors” and one post graduate college. These include the Escuela Normal Urbana de Balancán, Escuela Normal Justo Sierra Méndez, Escuela Normal Graciela Pintado de Madrazo, Escuela Normal Pablo García Avalos, Colegio Rosario María Gutiérrez Eskildsen, Colegio Monte Cristo, Centro de Estudios Culturales, Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco, Universidad Olmeca, Institutio Tecnológico de Villahermosa, Instituto Tecnológico Agropecuario Num.28, Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Comalcalco, Centro de Estudios Universitarios de Villahermosa, Instituto de Educación Superior Alfa y Omega, Universidad Pedagógica Nacional and the Colegio de Posgraduados en Ciencias Agrícolas.
The Universidad Intercultural del Estado de Tabasco was founded in 2006 as a state university to offer higher education to those from lower socioeconomic classes and indigenous communities.
The state has thirty three radio stations and thirteen television states, nine of which are repeaters for programs from Mexico City. The two local stations are Televisión de Tabasco and Canal 9.
The state has 9,092 of federal, state and rural roads. The most important highways in the state are the Coatzacoalcos-Villahermosa, Tuxtla Gutiérrez-Villahermosa, Escárcega-Villahermosa and Cd. Del Carmen-Frontera-Villahermosa. There are also 315 km of rail line which transports 523,468 tons of cargo per year as well as passengers.
The C.P.A. Carlos Rovirosa International Airport is located just outside Villahermosa. It offer services to various cities in Mexico along with Havana and Houston in the United States.
Yucatec Maya (Yukatek Maya in the revised orthography of the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala), called Màaya t'àan (lit. "Maya speech") by its speakers, is a Mayan language spoken in the Yucatán Peninsula and northern Belize. To native speakers, it is known only as Maya – "Yucatec" is a tag linguists use to distinguish it from other Mayan languages (such as K'iche' and Itza' Maya).
In the Mexican states of Yucatán, some parts of Campeche, Tabasco, Chiapas, and Quintana Roo, Maya remains many speakers' first language today, with approximately 800,000 to 1.2 million speakers.
A characteristic feature of Yucatec Mayan (and all Mayan languages) is the use of ejective consonants – . Often referred to as glottalized consonants, they are produced at the same place of oral articulation as their non-ejective stop counterparts – . However, the release of the lingual closure is preceded by a raising of the closed glottis to increase the air pressure in the space between the glottis and the point of closure, resulting in a release with a characteristic popping sound. These sounds are written using an apostrophe after the letter to distinguish them from the plain consonants (e.g., t'àan "speech" vs. táan "forehead"). The apostrophes indicating these sounds were not common in written Maya until the 20th century but are now becoming more common. The Mayan b is also glottalized, an implosive , and is sometimes written b', though this is becoming less common.
Yucatec Maya is one of only three Mayan languages to have developed tone, the others being Uspantek and one dialect of Tzotzil. Yucatec distinguishes short vowels and long vowels – indicated by single versus double letters (ii ee aa oo uu) – and between high- and low-tone long vowels. High-tone vowels begin on a high pitch and fall in phrase-final position but rise elsewhere, sometimes without much vowel length; in either case this is indicated in writing by means of an acute accent (íi ée áa óo úu). Low-tone vowels begin on a low pitch and are sustained in length; they are sometimes but not always indicated in writing by means of a grave accent (ìi èe àa òo ùu). Also, Yucatec has contrastive laryngealization (creaky voice) on long vowels, sometimes realized by means of a full intervocalic glottal stop and written as a long vowel with an apostrophe in the middle, as in the plural suffix -o'ob'.
Like almost all Mayan languages, Yucatec Maya is verb-initial. Word order varies between VOS and VSO, with VOS being the most common. Many sentences may appear to be SVO, but this order is due to a topic–comment system similar to that of Japanese. One of the most widely studied areas of Yucatec is the semantics of time in the language. Yucatec, like many other languages of the world (Kalaallisut, arguably Mandarin Chinese, Guaraní and others) does not have the grammatical category of tense. Temporal information is encoded by a combination of aspect, inherent lexical aspect (aktionsart), and pragmatically governed conversational inferences. Yucatec is further unusual for lacking temporal connective such as 'before' and 'after'. Another aspect of the language is the core-argument marking strategy, which is a 'fluid S system' in the typology of Dixon (1994) where intransitive subjects are encoded like agents or patients based upon a number of semantic properties as well as the perfectivity of the event.
The Maya were literate in pre-Columbian times, when the language was written using Maya script. The language itself can be traced back to proto-Yucatecan, the ancestor of modern Yucatec Maya, Itza, Lacandon and Mopan. Even further back, the language is ultimately related to all other Maya languages through proto-Mayan itself.
Yucatec Maya is now written in the Latin script. This was introduced during the Spanish Conquest of Yucatán which began in the early 16th century, and the now-antiquated conventions of Spanish orthography of that period ("Colonial orthography") were adapted to transcribe Yucatec Maya. This included the use of x for the postalveolar fricative sound (often spelled as sh in English), a sound that in Spanish has since turned into a velar fricative nowadays spelled j, except in a few geographic names such as "México".
In colonial times a "reversed c" () was often used to represent , which is now more usually represented with ⟨dz⟩ (and with ⟨tz'⟩ in the revised ALMG orthography).
† the letter w may represent the sounds /w/ or /v/. The sounds are interchangeable in Yucatec Mayan although /w/ is considered the proper sound.
The word "shark" almost certainly derives from Yucatec Maya xoc. The OED still describes the origin of shark as "uncertain", noting that it "seems to have been introduced by the sailors of Captain (afterwards Sir John) Hawkins's expedition, who brought home a specimen which was exhibited in London in 1569." These dates, however, helped establish its recently discovered etymology, and very few dictionaries have had the chance to update this entry.
Yucatec-language programming is carried by the CDI's radio stations XEXPUJ-AM (Xpujil, Campeche), XENKA-AM (Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo) and XEPET-AM (Peto, Yucatán).
The 2006 film Apocalypto, directed by Mel Gibson, was filmed entirely in Yucatec Maya. The script was translated into Maya by Hilario Chi Canul of the Maya community of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, who also worked as a language coach on the production.
In the video game Civilization V: Gods & Kings, Pacal, leader of the Maya, speaks in Yucatec Maya.
In August 2012, the Mozilla Translathon 2012 event brought over 20 Yucatec Mayan speakers together in a localization effort for the Google Endangered Languages Project, the Mozilla browser, and the MediaWiki software used by Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.
In addition to universities and private institutions in Mexico, (Yucatec) Maya is also taught at:
Audio course materials are available for purchase at
Free online dictionary, grammar and texts:
The Yucatán Peninsula (Spanish: Península de Yucatán), in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel. The peninsula lies east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a northwestern geographic partition separating the region of Central America from the rest of North America.
The peninsula comprises the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo; the northern part of the nation of Belize; and Guatemala's northern El Petén Department.
Quintana Roo (Spanish pronunciation: [kinˈtana ˈro]), officially Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo (Spanish: Estado Libre y Soberano de Quintana Roo), is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 10 municipalities and its capital city is Chetumal.
It is located in Southeastern Mexico, on the eastern part of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is bordered by the states of Yucatán to the northwest and Campeche to the west. To the north, Quintana Roo borders the Gulf of Mexico and to the south, Belize. It also claims territory which gives it a small border with Guatemala in the southwest of the state, although this disputed area is also claimed by Campeche.
States of Mexico
The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BC to AD 250), according to the Mesoamerican chronology, many Maya cities reached their highest state of development during the Classic period (c. AD 250 to 900), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish.
The Maya civilization shares many features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the high degree of interaction and cultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya; however, their civilization fully developed them. Maya influence can be detected in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and western El Salvador to as far away as central Mexico, more than 1,000 km (620 mi) from the central Maya area. The many outside influences found in Maya art and architecture are thought to have resulted from trade and cultural exchange rather than direct external conquest.
The United Mexican States (Spanish: Estados Unidos Mexicanos) is a federal republic composed of 32 federal entities: 31 states and 1 federal district.