Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and Belize in Central America
were home to the ancient Mayan civilization, which originated in about 2600 b.c.e., rose to prominence in about 300 c.e., and collapsed around 900 c.e. Although often studied as an empire, the Mayan civilization was not a unified society but rather a group of twenty culturally similar, independent states.
The ancient Maya
, whose early settlements date back to about 2,000 B.C., lived in present-day southern Mexico
and northern Central America. As a civilization, they are recognized for their sophisticated calendar systems and hieroglyphic writing, as well as their achievements in areas such as agriculture and architecture.
Around A.D. 250, the Maya entered what’s now known as the Classic Period, an era in which they built flourishing cities with temples and palaces, and population size peaked. However, by the end of the Classic Period, around A.D. 900, almost all of the major cities in what was then the heart of Maya civilization—the southern lowlands region, in present-day northern Guatemala and neighboring portions of Mexico, Belize and Honduras—had been abandoned.
Mayans created a highly developed culture with systems of writing, calendars, mathematics, astronomy, art, architecture, and religious, political, and military order. Mayans constructed beautiful stone cities and religious temples without the use of metal tools or the wheel, since these tools had not yet been discovered by their culture.
Much about Mayan culture is lost forever. The tropical climate of Mexico did not preserve the tree bark books buried with priests, and the Spanish conquerors and missionaries of the 1500s burned or destroyed the remnants of Mayan culture that they found. Nevertheless, archaeologists, people who study the physical remains of past cultures, continue to reveal new aspects of this ancient civilization through present-day excavations or scientific digs.
However, it was the Inca
empire which spanned a large portion of South America
by the late 1400s c.e. Although many different cultures prospered in the South
American Andes Mountains before 3000 b.c.e., the Incas developed their distinctive culture beginning in 1200 c.e. and by 1471 became the largest empire in South America
, reigning over a region that stretched from modern-day Ecuador
. Incas built roads, developed trade, created stone architecture, made beautifully worked gold art and jewelry, became skillful potters, and wove lovely fabrics. Much like the Aztecs, the Incas suffered from the attacks of Spanish conquerors and the spread of smallpox. Spaniard Francisco Pizarro
(c. 1475–1541) conquered the Incas in 1532 and the territory soon became a colony of Spain
. The last Inca emperor remained in power until 1572, when Spaniards killed him.
While the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas each had distinct clothing traditions and costumes, many similarities exist. In the broadest terms these cultures wore the same types of clothing styles. But the different ways they decorated their skin, adorned their hair, and patterned their fabric, among other daily habits, made them quite distinct and dissimilar.
The Book of Genesis is part of a familiar tale — the story of Noah's flood. Scholars have known for a long time that the Bible isn't the only place this story is found — in fact, the biblical story is similar to a much older Mesopotamian flood story in the epic of Gilgamesh, the eternally running man.
Scholars usually attribute things like the worldwide occurrence of flood stories to common human experiences and our love of repeating good stories, but recently scientists have started to uncover evidence that Noah's flood may have a basis in some rather astonishing events that took place around the Black Sea some 7,500 years ago, more than two thousand years before the oldest of the Central and South American pre-Colombian civilisations.
Two geologists at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have offered a new theory of what happened next. William Ryan and Walter Pitman, in Noah's Flood
(Simon & Schuster), 1997, postulate that as time went on, the world warmed, the glaciers retreated and meltwater from the European glaciers began to flow north into the North Sea, depriving the Black Sea of its main source of replenishment. The level of the Black Sea began to drop, and most of the area around its northern boundary — the area adjacent to present-day Crimea and the Sea of Azov — became dry land. At this point, the level of the Black Sea was several hundred feet below that of the Mediterranean, and the two were separated by the barrier of the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara, then dry land. This situation, with the world ocean rising while the Black Sea was falling, could not last forever. Eventually, like a bathtub overflowing, the Mediterranean had to pour through into the basin of the Black Sea.
The idea that ocean basins can flood catastrophically during periods of rising sea levels is nothing new in geology. Five million years ago, long before there were any humans around, just such an event occurred. The level of the Atlantic Ocean had dropped, or some tectonic event had occurred, with the result that water could no longer get through, and the Mediterranean gradually shrank down to a desert spotted with a few salty bits of ocean. Subsequently, when either the Atlantic rose again or another geological change took place, ocean water began pouring back into the former sea. The basin filled, and the present-day Mediterranean was created.