My first reaction at Chichen Itza: “wow, that’s an impressive pyramid!”
An open expanse of grass flows out from the central Kulkulcan pyramid (91 steps on each four sides) – where during the spring equinox – the sun hits the north side hand rail and illuminates seven indentations that reflect light onto the stairs creating the illusion of a slithering snake making its way down to the carved stone head at the base of the stairs.
But after walking through a large rectangular stadium with stone ring goals attached to the side walls dedicated to a soccer-like ball game with high stakes – losers (sometimes) were sacrificed to thank the gods for the Mayans continued prosperity (a superstitious/religious ritual in the guise of a game), I wondered when science and math came to prominence.
I look up at the sky and imagine the first priest/astronomer observe and record the cycles of the earth, the moon and Venus around the sun. All visible by the naked eye, these tiny balls of light in the sky guided and added meaning to the lives of the citizens.
By studying the sky and calculating a way of keeping track of their lives, the Mayans designed the solar Haab calendar, which calculated a period of 5,126 years (August 4, 3114 BC – December 21, 2012 AD) and made me realize how scientifically advanced they were. Was the calendar a cycle of existence, growth or wealth? No one can say for sure what the end date meant (and since it has come and gone, it didn’t mean the end of earth).
How ingenious to calculate a period of time using only observation – what would they have used to do the calculations? (Obviously there were no computers, which makes it even more impressive.)
After wandering around the structures for a couple of hours, I came to think that order and structure were an essential part of life for the Mayans. We all need structure and a sense of time passing and the length of a day, which leads to the unpredictable calculation: the length of a life.
Being in the presence of crumbled ruins transports me to the time when people lived and worked among the pillars and skulls – a wall adorned with hundreds of skull carvings. Supposedly, they were to frighten the citizens into following the demands of the chief or else! The archaeological evidence isn’t conclusive. Maybe it was to honour the dead and help people deal with the fear of death.
My thoughts were interrupted by tour guides with clear voices telling visitors the stories of Chichen Itza (a former city of 90,000 people in its prime) and vendors selling not-so-homemade crafts (artisans created original pieces while others sold manufactured goods). A mini modern economy had sprung up from the ruins.
The people of the Yucatan region are Mayan descendants who aren’t just resting on the glory of the past, but seem inspired to build on their legacy and begin the next 5,000 year cycle.