5: Central & South American Cultures

Maya civilization

The Maya civilization suddenly declined from the 9th century AD. The original population may have been as much as 10 million. Millions may have suddenly died. And Tikal and other cities were abandoned. Why? 
Dick Gill has presented one theory: That they died from severe draught. Geological evidence from Arctic icecore prove that the Northern hemisphere suffered the most severe draught in ca 3000 years. Sediment sample from riverbeds prove that Yucatán suffered the worst draught in ca 7000 years. So a draught lasting several years may have ment the end of Maya civilization. Unlike other areas of Central America, the Yucatán mainland has no rivers and lakes, preserving rain water.

  • - Teotihuacán, ruin city in central Mexico: Ruins of Maya's great city with pyramids, eg Sun and Moon temple. Had about 125 - 200,000 inhabitants. They believed in the feathered serpent. Ruined ca 650 - 750 AD. photo
  • - Palenque, Chiapas-Yucatán, Mexico: ruin city with pyramids, temple & grave chamber, Maya, city destroyed ca 799/835 AD, photo of wall painting
  • - Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, Mexico: ruin city with pyramids, north Maya-Toltek, ca 6 - 12th century, photo by Thomas von Seth
  • - Uxmal, Yucatán, Mexico: ruin city, Maya, photo
  • - Tulum, Yucatán, Mexico: ruin area with reliefs, city wall
  • - Cacaxtla, central Mexico: mural paintings in temple ruins, Maya, ca 790 AD
  • - Sayil, Yucatán, Mexico: ruin of Maya palace, 8th-10th centuries
  • - Bonampak, Yucatán, Mexico: murals & hieroglyphs in temple, Maya, ca 790 AD, photo
  • - Copán, Guatemala: Maya ruins, founded in 423 AD and kept by same dynasty for 400 years, contains red painted temple from 7th century AD which has been found inside two other temples outside each other, city destroyed ca 819 AD, this is where the first Maya excavations were made in the 19th century
  • - Tikal, Guatemala: tall temple pyramids, hieroglyphs, Maya, 3rd century AD, in 562 some inhabitants escaped to Dos Pilas, "metropolis" destroyed in 869/879 AD, discovered in 1839 by John Lloyd Stevens, photo. Before it was destroyed, Tikal had ca 100,000 inhabitants and was one of the world's largest cities. So why did the Maya culture collapse so suddenly?

Other civilizations in Mexico & Guatemala

  • - El Tajin, central Mexico: ruin city with 7-storey pyramid, inhabited from the early 9th to the early 13th centuries AD
  • - Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico: terrace with ruins, palace, observatory & graves, finds in museum in Oaxaca, ca 300 - 1300 AD
  • - Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico: inhabited from ca 100 AD - 1521 AD, palace ruins, Mixtek, ca 1300 - 1500 AD
  • - Tula (Tollan), central Mexico: Minor ruins from the Toltek capital , built ca 950, destroyed ca 1070. Tolteks worshipped Quetzaquatl, the feathered serpent.
  • - Mexico City: Ruins of the old Aztek temple, beside and under the present cathedral, 15th century. The Aztek capital Tenochtitlan with 100,000 inhabitants was built on a swamp. They worshipped the feathered serpent. Last ruler was Montezuma until Cortez ruined everything in 1520.

South America

  • - Machu Picchu, Peru: Inka city, discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham
  • - Tiahuanaco, Bolivia: Remains of ruin city at Titicaca Lake on 3850 m altitude. The Sun Gate is famous, photo.
  • - Chan-Chan, near Trujillo, Peru: Remains of the ruin city of the Chimú kingdom capital ca 1300-1470 AD.

Per Åkesson 1994, revised jul '12

Back to start page