Saturday 29 April 2017

Post Classic Mayan Period

The Post Classical Mayan period is the period between 950 CE to 1539 CE. It followed the Classic Maya collapse which was the decline of Classic Maya civilization and the abandonment of Maya cities in the southern Maya lowlands of Mesoamerica between the 8th and 9th centuries.

Chichen Itza

During the collapse, in the northern Yucatán, individual rule was replaced by a ruling council formed from elite lineages. In the southern Yucatán and central Petén, kingdoms declined; in western Petén and some other areas, the changes were catastrophic and resulted in the rapid depopulation of cities. Within a couple of generations, large swathes of the central Maya area were all but abandoned. Both the capitals and their secondary centres were generally abandoned within a period of 50 to 100 years.

Temple Complex in Tikal, Peten region

One by one, cities stopped sculpting dated monuments; the last Long Count date was inscribed at Toniná in 909. Stelae were no longer raised, and squatters moved into abandoned royal palaces. Mesoamerican trade routes shifted and bypassed Petén.

Mayan ruins of Tonina

The Postclassic Period was marked by changes from the preceding Classic Period. The once-great city of Kaminaljuyu in the Valley of Guatemala was abandoned after continuous occupation of almost 2,000 years. Across the highlands and neighbouring Pacific coast, long-occupied cities in exposed locations were relocated, apparently due to a proliferation of warfare.

Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala

Chichen Itza and its Puuc neighbours declined dramatically in the 11th century, and this may represent the final episode of Classic Period collapse. After the decline of Chichen Itza, the Maya region lacked a dominant power until the rise of the city of Mayapan in the 12th century. New cities arose near the Caribbean and Gulf coasts, and new trade networks were formed.

Ruins of Mayapan

One of the most important cities in the Guatemalan Highlands at this time was Q'umarkaj, the capital of the aggressive K'iche' kingdom. The government of Maya states, from the Yucatán to the Guatemalan highlands, was often organized as joint rule by a council. However, in practice one member of the council could act as a supreme ruler, while the other members served him as advisers.

The ruins of Q'umarkaj, with the ballcourt at left and the temple of Tohil to the right.

Mayapan was abandoned around 1448, after a period of political, social and environmental turbulence that in many ways echoed the Classic period collapse in the southern Maya region. The abandonment of the city was followed by a period of prolonged warfare, disease and natural disasters in the Yucatán Peninsula, which ended only shortly before Spanish contact in 1511.


On the eve of the Spanish conquest, the highlands of Guatemala were dominated by several powerful Maya states.The K'iche' had carved out a small empire covering a large part of the western Guatemalan Highlands and the neighbouring Pacific coastal plain. However, in the decades before the Spanish invasion the Kaqchikel kingdom had been steadily eroding the kingdom of the K'iche'.

A post-classic highland kingdom

Unlike the Aztecs and the Inca, the Maya political system never integrated the entire Maya cultural area into a single state or empire. Rather, throughout its history, the Maya area contained a varying mix of political complexity that included both states and chiefdoms. These polities fluctuated greatly in their relationships with each other and were engaged in a complex web of rivalries, periods of dominance or submission, vassalage, and alliances. At times, different polities achieved regional dominance, such as Calakmul, Caracol, Mayapan, and Tikal.

Mayan Stelae

From the Early Preclassic, Maya society was sharply divided between the elite and commoners. As population increased over time, various sectors of society became increasingly specialized, and political organization became increasingly complex. By the Late Classic, when populations had grown enormously and hundreds of cities were connected in a complex web of political hierarchies, the wealthy segment of society multiplied.

Steale showing Mayan Society

Under classic Maya rule, the king was the supreme ruler and held a semi-divine status that made him the mediator between the mortal realm and that of the gods. Maya political administration, based around the royal court, was not bureaucratic in nature. Government was hierarchical, and official posts were sponsored by higher-ranking members of the aristocracy; officials tended to be promoted to higher levels of office during the course of their lives.

Stela from Toniná, representing the 6th-century king Bahlam Yaxuun Tihl

Commoners are estimated to have comprised over 90% of the population of the Mayans, their houses were generally constructed from perishable materials, and their remains have left little trace in the archaeological record. Some commoner dwellings were raised on low platforms, and these can be identified, but an unknown quantity of commoner houses were not.

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