The Mayans and the Aztecs

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The Mayans and the Aztecs built great civilizations in Mexico and Central America. The first of these cultures was the Mayan civilization, then the Aztecs. These are the ancient American civilization that the Spanish conquerors found when they arrived on the American continent. The Mayans and Aztecs were two great civilizations, which had the same religion, great monuments, cities and agriculture, but differ in terms of language, science, and where they lived, making the Mayas a better civilization for their superiority in science.

Aztecs and Mayas have left admirable artistic legacy temples, palaces, ceramics, sculptures, paintings, and woodcarvings. The two cultures presented pyramids and ceremonial centers. The architecture had a close relationship with religion, astronomy and geography. For example, the monumental buildings were decorated with images of religious and cultural importance and in many cases with writing. The Mayan cities were immense they had temples, pyramids and palaces, in these; they sculpted the stone to form figures and create many sculptures along the cities that represent their gods. These constructions had paintings, with which they recorded what happen. Same with the Aztecs their city was in the middle of a lake, with glorious monuments and pyramids. The size of the buildings and the great crowds who welcomed these strange-looking visitors left the Spaniards astonished. They saw huge palaces coated with shiny cement and swept and garlanded . . . adjacent to great oratories for idols, some of which were covered with blood. The Aztec island capital, Tenochtitlan was at that time one of the largest cities in the world with nearly 200,000 inhabitants(Carrasco, 2012, 1). All this was possible because the architects and urban planners designed and built important ceremonial centers, with pyramidal foundations, wide squares and beautiful palaces traced perfectly. In both cultures beautiful places were built, and above all so perfect, lacking metal tools that we have today, as is the case of hammers, shovels. Therefore, to do such wonderful things they needed a lot of strength. They made their cities places that still surprise for their harmonious concept as well as majestic. The Mayas potters and ceramist produced colorful sculptures with figures of animals and plants. This sculptures left proof of their mastery and talent in monumental pieces worked in stone, with which they generally represented their gods.

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The religion was the same among the two; the religion was polytheistic. The Mayas believed in several gods represented of nature, they believed in the god of the earth, water, sun and moon. Similarly, with the Aztec civilization that also had a polytheist religion tended to believe in several gods like the god of heaven, and god of war. Although the two civilizations had the same religion, their gods were represented differently as the name of each god was different for each civilization; for the Mayas Chaac was associated with water, lightning and rain, so it was invoked to obtain good harvests and Tlaloc the god of water for the Aztecs. Likewise, in both civilizations they practice the sacrifice. The sacrifices were very important for the Aztecs because they believed that without these sacrifices, the gods would not receive their honors and a catastrophic could happen. The central notion was that without death there could be no life. Without that constant feeding to their gods, the Sun would stop going out. The sacrifice, then, was to maintain the balance of the universe, and avoid the end of the world. The Mayans made these sacrifices also to offer their gods as a gift in their honor, thanking for the good harvests, for the immense rain that the gods provided. Nature was the main motivation for the Mayas and the Aztecs. One of the main characteristics was the appreciation of a world linked to the idea of fatality and catastrophe, eventually the two civilizations were polytheistic and although they had different names for their gods, they were related to nature, however with different names, the gods represented the same.

In both civilizations, they practiced agriculture, corn was what they harvest most because it was the most important food, but their way of planting was very different, the Mayans planted the corn seeds in very long fields using the technique of cutting trees making more space and burning, the burning of the trees and plants with help as a fertilize. A clear difference in technique is that the Aztecs were famous for their method of agriculture called chinampas, which were floating gardens anchored, in a shallow lake covered with mud in which they planted vegetables, and small plants. On these chinampas, they could harvest seventh times in one year even more than in a regular field. The American Indian cultures left a great development of scientific knowledge and artistic manifestations. Existence of very advanced types of social organization, great development in agricultural cultivation, like the Maya, the Aztecs main crop was corn (The Aztecs, 2001, 9). Similarly, they use the same tools to work the land making it easier to plant the crops, a wood stick with tip, so they could easily make a hole to put the seeds, doing less work being able to plant big amounts of land.

In the same way the Aztec calendar and the Maya come from the same source of previous civilizations. Both calendars were built based on a 260-day series, and both Mayans and Aztecs used a 365-day calendar. Between the 260-day and the 365-day calendars, the only variation was the way the symbols and numbers were visually represented. The Mayans were more advanced reaching to establish a writing and being more exact on the days of the calendar . The Aztecs based their calendar on that of the Maya. Interestingly, it was more accurate than those used by Europeans at the time (Smith, Michael E., Calliope, 2005). It is impressive the fact that these two cultures in their period of full splendor did not meet, because the Mayans were older. A clear example why the two calendars were distinctive is because each of the civilization had a different language, the Aztecs main language was the Nahualt, and the Mayas was Maya with different dialects.

In contrast, the two-civilization were in two different locations and the time when they appear too. The Mayans settled in the southeast of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Salvador, the Aztec empire in the center of Mexico. The first Mayan cities were built years before Christ; they famous cities were Palenque south of Mexico, and Tikal in Guatemala. The Aztecs appeared after Christ in the 14th century in the lake of Texcoco, which was transformed into the powerful city of Tenochtitlan, now city of Mexico.

Finally, the Mayas was the best civilization because they were more advance in science such as astronomy and math. They produced extremely precise astronomical observations, their diagrams of the movements of the Moon and the planets without optical instruments are equal or superior to those of any other civilization. The Mayans measured the length of the solar year with a high degree of precision, with much more precision than that used in Europe.

The Maya, for example, brought astronomy, mathematics, calendar making, and hieroglyphic writing, as well as monumental architecture, to their highest expression in the New World(Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). The Mayans noticed that the stars were changing positions throughout the days, observing the position of the moon, the sun and the stars, they could predict what time of the year they were. For many years, they were concerned to know more about the sky and the stars, which they considered powerful gods. The Mayans used their pyramids as astronomical observatories. The Mayans were the masters of the numbers; they came to make difficult calculations because they had a deep mathematical knowledge because they use of zero. This great culture had impressive advances in science even for our time, particularly in mathematics and astrology. The Mayan and Aztec civilizations were great and perfect ancient cultures. But the Mayas achieved an impressive superiority in science, as well as their social, political and cultural structure. These advances led them to form their civilization, which until this day is recognized with admiration.

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