The tree of the world

  • Giulio Magli

The ancient or preclassical Mayan period stretches far back into the mists of antiquity, to the second millennium BC (Coe 2001). Around 50 BC, almost simultaneously with the Teotihuacan in central Mexico, the period of the Mayan city-state began, among the first city-states being Cerros and Izapa. Between the third and ninth centuries AD–the classical period–the Mayan civilization was to achieve the highest excellence in every sphere, with the development of the great city-states in what is today southwest Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The classical period ended between the ninth and 10th centuries (Webster 2002), and this collapse has remained so far unexplained. It occurred suddenly and probably dramatically, to the extent that it has even been possible to trace the last date recorded in inscriptions in every single city. This is one of many examples of a collapse of a civilization that is still shrouded in mystery, even though the plethora of data available for the Mayas allows us to use mathematical techniques to attempt to simulate the phenomenon (Hamblin and Pitcher 1980, Lowe 1982). Whatever the cause, at the time of the Spanish conquest, the Mayan civilization had already vanished many years earlier, although pockets of Mayan people lived on, scattered about in little villages. Since then, the population has suffered many hardships, but has managed nevertheless to retain its own identity and traditions.


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© Springer-Verlag New York 2009

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  • Giulio Magli

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