Version française









Some sites on the Maya


The Mayas

Among great civilizations which developed on the American continent before the arrival of the conquistadores, the most brilliant was certainly that of the Mayas.

Cultural achievements (architecture, sculpture, etc.) of these culture extend over one period going from the beginning of our era to the beginning of XVIe century.

Nowadays the descendants of the Mayas are still approximately two million, living on a territory including the south of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, the north of Honduras and San El Salvador.

1. Cities in the jungle

One of the most remarkable features of Maya civilization is to have succeeded, in an original architectural style, to build towns of several tens of thousands inhabitants in full tropical jungle.

The most important cities of the traditional period (250 to 900 after J.-C.), are Tikal and El Mirador in which pyramids reach 70 meters height, exceeding the summit of the trees of the forest.

The other important cities of this time are Palenque, Copán, Tonina, Bonampak.

After a still unexplained decline of the civilization of the traditional period (until 900 after J.-C.), the Mayas gave up the forest to found, under the influences of the Tolteques came from North, a new civilization.

This one, established primarily on the peninsula of Yucatan in Mexico. One can quote Chichen Itza and Uxmal like principal cities of this period.



2. Maya science

2.1. Astronomy

The Mayas, like the other people pre-Colombian, were very intrigued by the celestial phenomena and particularly by the movement of the stars : the sun, the moon and also the Venus planet which is very visible under these latitudes.

They drew up very precise tables of the positions of these stars.


2.2. Mathematics

The system of calculation was based on 20 and not out of 10 as on our premises. Indeed, the man has 20 fingers, including hands and feet. The figure 20 was synonymous with the word “man”.

Mayas used only three symbols to represent the figures: a point for the unit, a bar for five and a shell stylized for the zero.

The use of the zero was adopted much more tardily on the old continent.

By laying out these symbols upwards (or of right-hand side on the left) one can represent all the numbers.


2.3. Time-table

Astronomical and mathematical knowledge acquired, the Mayas developed a system of very complex time-table more precise than our Gregorian time-table (adopted in 1582).

2.4. Writing

All knowledge could be transcribed on paper by a writing which remains today still quite mysterious.

This writing is at the same time ideographic (symbols expressing an idea) and phonetics (symbols representing of the sounds). We unfortunately dont have document allowing a comparison as the stone of Rosette for the writing of the former Egyptians.

Maya books, out of paper of bark, – whose this book adopted the presentation in accordion – are called codex.

There remains only four Maya codices which bears the name of that which discovered it or that of the city where he is deposited : codex of Madrid or Tro-Cortesiano codex, codex of Paris or Pérez codex, codex of Dresden and codex of New York or Grolier codex.



3. Gods and men

The Mayas had a very hierarchical design of their place in this world : a creative god of the gods, themselves creative of the men and the universe. The universe was divided into several levels; each level had its forests, its inhabitants, his sky.

The sky were inhabited by Hach Äk Yum, our true father, creator of the men and the skies.

The underground world sheltered Su Kun Yum, the elder brother of our father. It is there which remained the soul of deaths.


The walk of the sun.

Each evening the sun lies down with West. It is recovered by Su Kun Yum which keeps it at his place for its rests. In the morning it brings back it to the foot of the East pillar ; It is the paddle of a new day.

ItŐs thanks to Su Kun Yum that which heats us and clarifies us come back every morning, until that the four pillars – the pillars of the cardinal points – which supports the ground do not break by the wear of time and thus, do not produce the end of the world.



Some Maya gods :

Ah Puch, god of death ;

Chac, god of the rain ;

Yum Kaax, young god of corn ;

Xaman Ek, god of the polar star.



4. Bibliography

• Baudez Claude et Picasso Sydney, Les cités perdues des mayas, Découvertes Gallimard, Paris, 1987.

• Boremanse Didier, Contes et mythologie des indiens Lacandons, contribution à l’étude de la tradition orale maya., Connaissance des hommes, l’Harmattan, Paris, 1986.

• Burgos Elisabeth, Moi, Rigoberta Menchú, Une vie une voix, la révolution au Guatemala, Collection Témoins, Gallimard, 1983.

• Catherwood Frederick, Les cités mayas, un monde perdu et retrouvé, 1844, Bibliothèque de l’Image, Paris, 1993.

• Coe Michael D., Les Mayas, mille ans de splendeur d’un peuple., Collection civilisations, Armand Colin, Paris, 1987.

• Gates William, An outline dictionary of maya glyphs,Dover publications, Inc., New York, 1978.

• Gendrop Paul, Les Mayas, Que sais-je ?, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1978.

• Kanellis Judit, Ancient maya message : Dresden Codex, the most important pre-hispanic document., CAISA, Guatemala, 1981.

• Les prophéties du Chilam Balam, version de J. M. G. Le Clézio, Gallimard, Paris, 1976.

• Pop Wuh, Le livre des événements, version de Adrián I. Chávez, Édition Gallimard, Paris, 1978.

• Salmoral Manuel Lucena, La América precolombina., Biblioteca básica de historia, ANAYA, Madrid, 1990.

• Sten Maria, Las extraordinarias historias de los codices mexicanos., Contrapuntos, Joaquín Mortiz, México, 1990.

• Stierlin Henri, Maya, Architecture universelle, Office du Livre, Paris, 1964.