Maya more warlike than previously thought

Maya more warlike than previously thought
This view from a recent lidar survey shows the entire ceremonial center stretching for 2 kilimeters along a limestone ridge overlooking Laguna Ek'Naab (white spot), the sampling site for this paleoenvironmental study. Credit: Francisco Estrada-Belli, PACUNAM & Tulane University

What was the role of warfare in Mayan civilization? New evidence from lake sediments around the abandoned city of Witzna indicates that extreme, total warfare was not just an aspect of the late Mayan period, leading to its fall, but a characteristic of intercity rivalry during the peak of Mayan culture. UC Berkeley and Tulane University researchers discovered a thick charcoal layer from a massive, scorched-earth attack on Witzna on May 21, 697 CE (AD).

The Maya of Central America are thought to have been a kinder, gentler civilization, especially compared to the Aztecs of Mexico. At the peak of Mayan culture some 1,500 years ago, warfare seemed ritualistic, designed to extort ransom for captive royalty or to subjugate rival dynasties, with limited impact on the surrounding population.

Only later, archeologists thought, did increasing drought and climate change lead to total warfare—cities and dynasties were wiped off the map in so-called termination events—and the collapse of the lowland Maya civilization around 1,000 A.D. (or C.E., current era).

New evidence unearthed by a researcher from the University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. Geological Survey calls all this into question, suggesting that the Maya engaged in scorched-earth military campaigns—a strategy that aims to destroy anything of use, including cropland—even at the height of their civilization, a time of prosperity and artistic sophistication.

The finding also indicates that this increase in warfare, possibly associated with climate change and resource scarcity, was not the cause of the disintegration of the lowland Maya civilization.

"These data really challenge one of the dominant theories of the collapse of the Maya," said David Wahl, a UC Berkeley adjunct assistant professor of geography and a researcher at the USGS in Menlo Park, California. "The findings overturn this idea that warfare really got intense only very late in the game."

"The revolutionary part of this is that we see how similar Mayan warfare was from early on," said archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli of Tulane University, Wahl's colleague. "It wasn't primarily the nobility challenging one another, taking and sacrificing captives to enhance the charisma of the captors. For the first time, we are seeing that this warfare had an impact on the general population."

Total warfare

The evidence, reported today in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, is an inch-thick layer of charcoal at the bottom of a lake, Laguna Ek'Naab, in Northern Guatemala: a sign of extensive burning of a nearby city, Witzna, and its surroundings that was unlike any other natural fire recorded in the lake's sediment.

The charcoal layer dates from between 690 and 700 A.D., right in the middle of the classic period of Mayan civilization, 250-950 A.D. The date for the layer coincides exactly with the date—May 21, 697 A.D.—of a "burning" campaign recorded on a stone stela, or pillar, in a rival city, Naranjo.

"This is really the first time the written record has been linked to an event in the paleo data sets in the New World," Wahl said. "In the New World, there is so little writing, and what's preserved is mostly on stone monuments. This is unique in that we were able to identify this event in the sedimentary record and point to the written record, particularly these Mayan hieroglyphs, and make the inference that this is the same event."

Wahl, a geologist who studies past climate and is first author of the study, worked with USGS colleague Lysanna Anderson and Estrada-Belli to extract 7 meters of sediment cores from the lake. Laguna Ek'Naab, which is about 100 meters across, is located at the base of the plateau where Witzna once flourished and has collected thousands of years of sediment from the city and its surrounding agricultural fields. After seeing the charcoal layer, the archaeologists examined many of Witzna's ruined monuments still standing in the jungle and found evidence of burning in all of them.

"What we see here is, it looks like they torched the entire city and, indeed, the entire watershed," Wahl said. "Then, we see this really big decrease in human activity afterwards, which suggests at least that there was a big hit to the population. We can't know if everyone was killed or they moved or if they simply migrated away, but what we can say is that human activity decreased very dramatically immediately after that event."

This one instance does not prove that the Maya engaged in total warfare throughout the 650-year classic period, Estrada-Belli said, but it does fit with increasing evidence of warlike behavior throughout that period: mass burials, fortified cities and large standing armies.

Maya more warlike than previously thought
UC Berkeley's David Wahl and Lysanna Anderson of USGS with a local assistant taking a sediment sample from the center of Lake Ek'Naab from an inflatable platform. All the equipment had to be carried 2 kilometers down a steep jungle trail to the lake. Credit: Francisco Estrada-Belli, Tulane

"We see destroyed cities and resettled people similar to what Rome did to Carthage or Mycenae to Troy," Estrada-Belli said.

And if total warfare was already common at the peak of Mayan lowland civilization, then it is unlikely to have been the cause of the civilization's collapse, the researchers argue.

"I think, based on this evidence, the theory that a presumed shift to total warfare was a major factor in the collapse of Classic Maya society is no longer viable," said Estrada-Belli. "We have to rethink the cause of the collapse, because we're not on the right path with warfare and climate change."

'Bahlam Jol burned for the second time'

Though Mayan civilization originated more than 4,000 years ago, the Classic period is characterized by widespread monumental architecture and urbanization exemplified by Tikal in Guatemala and Dzibanché in Mexico's Yucatan. City-states—independent states made up of cities and their surrounding territories—were ruled by dynasties that, archaeologists thought, established alliances and waged wars much like the city-states of Renaissance Italy, which affected the nobility without major impacts on the population.

In fact, most archaeologists believe that the incessant warfare that arose in the terminal Classic period (800-950 A.D.), presumably because of climate change, was the major cause of the decline of Mayan cities throughout present day El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Southern Mexico.

So when Wahl, Anderson and Estrada-Belli discovered the charcoal layer in 2013 in Laguna Ek'Naab—a layer unlike anything Wahl had seen before—they were puzzled. The scientists had obtained the lake core in order to document the changing climate in Central America, hoping to correlate these with changes in human occupation and food cultivation.

The puzzle lingered until 2016, when Estrada-Belli and co-author Alexandre Tokovinine, a Mayan epigrapher at the University of Alabama, discovered a key piece of evidence in the ruins of Witzna: an emblem glyph, or city seal, identifying Witzna as the ancient Mayan city Bahlam Jol. Searching through a database of names mentioned in Mayan hieroglyphs, Tokovinine found that very name in a "war statement" on a stela in the neighboring city-state of Naranjo, about 32 kilometers south of Bahlam Jol/Witzna.

The statement said that on the day "... 3 Ben, 16 Kasew ('Sek'), Bahlam Jol 'burned' for the second time." According to Tokovinine, the connotation of the word "burned," or puluuy in Mayan, has always been unclear, but the date 3 Ben, 16 Kasew on the Mayan calendar, or May 21, 697, clearly associates this word with total warfare and the scorched earth destruction of Bahlam Jol/Witzna.

"The implications of this discovery extend beyond mere reinterpretation of references to burning in ancient Maya inscriptions," Tokovinine said. "We need to go back to the drawing board on the very paradigm of ancient Maya warfare as centered on taking captives and extracting tribute."

Three other references to puluuy or "burning" are mentioned in the same war statement, referencing the cities of Komkom, known today as Buenavista del Cayo; K'an Witznal, now Ucanal; and K'inchil, location unknown. These cities may also have been decimated, if the word puluuy describes the same extreme in all references. The earlier burning of Bahlam Jol/Witzna mentioned on the stela may also have left evidence in the lake cores—there are three other prominent charcoal layers in addition to the one from 697 A.D.—but the date of the earlier burning is unknown.

Mayan archaeologists have reconstructed some of the local history, and it's known that the conquest of Bahlam Jol/Witzna was set in motion by a queen of Naranjo, Lady 6 Sky, who was trying to reestablish her dynasty after the city-state had declined and lost all its possessions. She set her seven-year-old son, Kahk Tilew, on the throne and then began military campaigns to wipe out all the rival cities that had rebelled, Estrada-Belli said.

"The punitive campaign was recorded as being waged by her son, the king, but we know it's really her," he said.

That was not the end of Bahlam Jol/Witzna, however. The city revived, to some extent, with a reduced population, as seen in the lake cores. And the emblem glyph was found on a stela erected around 800 A.D, 100 years after the city's destruction. The city was abandoned around 1,000 A.D.

"The ability to tie geologic evidence of a devastating fire to an event noted in the epigraphic record, made possible by the relatively uncommon discovery of an ancient Maya 's emblem glyph, reflects a confluence of findings nearly unheard of in the field of geoarchaeology," Wahl said.


Explore further

Guatemala: 'Extraordinary' Mayan frieze found

More information: David Wahl et al, Palaeoenvironmental, epigraphic and archaeological evidence of total warfare among the Classic Maya, Nature Human Behaviour (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-019-0671-x
Journal information: Nature Human Behaviour

Citation: Maya more warlike than previously thought (2019, August 5) retrieved 23 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-maya-warlike-previously-thought.html
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Aug 05, 2019
Only hippies and idiots only ever thought the Mayans were noble savages at peace with their world.

Aug 05, 2019
"...but a characteristic of intercity rivalry during the peak of Mayan culture"

OVERPOPULATION causes tribalism. Intertribal war has been the norm throughout history no matter the sustained efforts throughout the ages to disguise the fact.

Because if we knew that overgrowth has always been the #1 enemy of civilization, then we might begin to discern the extent of perennial Efforts to mitigate it.

There is no avoiding war, there is only planning and staging it at the proper time so that it be a constructive, and not destructive, affair.

The greek city-states engaged in planned and orchestrated war for 1500 years, as directed by the delphic priesthood. THEY decided who would fight whom, who would be allies and who would be enemies. The result was an enduring culture that could resist all invaders and would form the basis of western civilization.

This system of planned and managed war continues to this day and is the only explanation for the existence of stability and progress.

Aug 05, 2019
Was this system of rational conflict shared with early civilizations in the western hemisphere? Was a delegation of priestly diplomats sent across the Atlantic to share this revelation with Rulers desperate to control their populations and save their cultures?

We see the rise of organized, centralized rule around the world at about the same time, the construction of large public works, scientific and economic institutions all similar in form and function.

The people are the true enemies of leaders everywhere. No matter how benevolent and well-meaning those rulers might be, pops will inevitably grow beyond their capacity to feed themselves. And they will always blame their rulers for their misery.

Divide them up and send them against one another in orderly and manageable ways.

Aug 05, 2019
"9. And to Gabriel said the Lord: 'Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates, and against the children of fornication: and destroy [the children of fornication and] the children of the Watchers from amongst men [and cause them to go forth]: send them one against the other that they may destroy each other in battle: for length of days shall they not have." - book of enoch chap 10

Aug 05, 2019
"There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass" (Cypria Fragments).

-No gods required.

"A Time for Everything
3 There is a [PROPER] time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens"

"10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.

"15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.

"18 I also said to myself, "As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals." - Ecc3

-Everything becomes clear when one can see the whole picture from the proper perspective.

Aug 05, 2019
shootsownfoot surprised me

i thought he/she/it was as illiterate & innumerate as all the other altright fairytails

but shoofly has been dipping into the cesspool of theosophist-nazi literature & their extolling of the "Noble Savages" of the New World.

while declaiming against the primitive "not-so-noble savages" of the Slavs & Africans

Aug 05, 2019
The idea that it was justified to go to war against other tribes, city-states, nations, etc., for the sole purpose of expanding one's own (and thus securing a greater degree of security against attacks from others, gaining more resources, etc.) was pretty much universal. It was always also seen as a terrible thing, but only because of the horrors likely to be experienced by one's own country, friends, or self.

It was only when Christianity came along that people began to see war as something regrettable in itself, a "necessary evil," and even then at first it was pretty easily justified. Once the Romanist and various Protestant factions started to cool off and settle into their own territories, and Rationalists pointed out the excesses and general insanity of such wars, Europeans began to develop some sense of shame about waging war except in defense.

Aug 05, 2019
Only hippies and idiots only ever thought the Mayans were noble savages at peace with their world.


Except that the anthropology community seems to be on some weird "rehabilitation" campaign to exonerate any non-white race of any deeds deemed "impolitic."

Aug 05, 2019
However, Darwinism's "survival of the fittest" (a phrase Darwin borrowed, as I recall) was extended by many to human society, Marx (influenced by Darwin) proclaimed or almost prophesied that revolutionary war was inevitable and necessary, and so we had new justifications for all-out wars of aggression and even extermination.

On the other hand, going beyond the early Christian/Rationalist trend, many people in the West began to think that war for any reason could never be justified. Not even in defense of allied countries being invaded, or even in self-defense!

It will be ... interesting to see how these competing trends play out in the future.

Aug 06, 2019
It was only when Christianity came along that people began to see war as something regrettable in itself, a "necessary evil," and even then at first it was pretty easily justified. Once the Romanist and various Protestant factions started to cool off and settle into their own territories, and Rationalists pointed out the excesses and general insanity of such wars, Europeans began to develop some sense of shame about waging war except in defense
Haha yeah right. Look up the 30 years war, the crusades, the opium wars, the Anglo-Spanish war, the Zulu wars, the entire British empire.

You xians have no idea how deluded you are.

Aug 06, 2019
christian/rationalist
-Huh. This is actually a thing.

"Theistic rationalists believe natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism typically coexist compatibly, with rational thought balancing the conflicts between the first two aspects."

-Heres the thing...

"Both Shaftesbury and the Deists wanted to preserve theology while freeing it from supernaturalism; both denied the occurrence of miracles; both called for free criticism of the Bible and questioned the absoluteness of its authority; both shared a distrust of sacramental and priestly religion..."

-there is no religion without the supernatural. This is just more religionist doublethink... they will deny miracles while insisting that the promise of eternal life in heaven is a perfectly rational thing to believe.

Deism itself was invented by philos out of desperation to save religion after the enlightenment and the advent of the scientific method. Prayer alone was not winning wars you see. Science was.

Aug 06, 2019
many people in the West began to think that war for any reason could never be justified... all-out wars of aggression and even extermination
-But if that were true then they would have deleted that whole 'Joshuan genocidal rampage throughout the holy land' thing. Over 200 cities, towns, villages razed, the inhabitants slaughtered, enslaved, raped.

The WHOLE RELIGION is based on war (OT) and revolution (NT). They ALL are.

Jesus was the consummate revolutionary. No revolution without martyrs.

"I come to bring not peace but a sword..." matt10
Protestant factions started to cool off and settle into their own territories
Another thing xians fail to realize... the success of the abrahamic religions was due to reproductive aggression. They were simply better at outgrowing and overrunning their now-extinct competitors.

They were better at forcing their women to do nothing else but make babies until it killed them.

Emancipation of women has reduced war in the west.

Aug 06, 2019
Was a delegation of priestly diplomats sent across the Atlantic to share this revelation with Rulers desperate to control their populations and save their cultures?


You dope, They are talking about Mayan culture from 250 to 950 AD, long before the west crossed the Atlantic. It's an insane comment too, regardless of the age.

Aug 06, 2019
Haha yeah right. Look up the 30 years war, the crusades, the opium wars, the Anglo-Spanish war, the Zulu wars, the entire British empire.


You idiot, they weren't burning down other English cities and killing all the inhabitants. And the English were about the only conqueror who built up those cities they conquered with English technology.

Aug 06, 2019
You dope, They are talking about Mayan culture from 250 to 950 AD, long before the west crossed the Atlantic. It's an insane comment too, regardless of the age
You dope. What makes you think there wasn't travel across the Atlantic before then?

"A new discovery has revealed that the Vikings may have travelled hundreds of miles further into North America than previously thought." [as far south as the caribbean]

"In 1992, German toxicologist Svetlana Balabanova discovered traces of cocaine, hashish and nicotine on Henut Taui's hair as well as on the hair of several others mummies of the museum"

"Guanabara Bay Brazil... The Rio jars look to be late versions of those jars, perhaps datable to the third century A.D."

-etcetc. Tons of evidence. Eurasians were traveling everywhere else. Out of 10k Mayan books discovered, the church burned all but 3. We can assume that any evidence of precolombian contact was actively sought out and destroyed.
Cont>

Aug 06, 2019
You idiot, they weren't burning down other English cities and killing all the inhabitants
You moron of course euro xians were destroying other euro xian cities.

"The Sack of Magdeburg, also called Magdeburg Wedding (German: Magdeburger Hochzeit) or Magdeburg's Sacrifice (German: Magdeburgs Opfergang), was the destruction of the Protestant city of Magdeburg on 20 May 1631 by the Imperial Army and the forces of the Catholic League, resulting in the deaths of around 20,000"

-and as far as Brits against brits, I count 30 wars and rebellions on british soil after 1075.
https://en.m.wiki..._Britain

-Plenty of jesus-inspired sacking, burning, slaughtering, and sacking going on.

Read up on how charlemagne established his empire at the behest of the Pope in an already-xian europe.

Aug 06, 2019
Did I say sacking?

"Charlemagne's reign was one of near-constant warfare, personally leading many of his campaigns. He seized the Lombard Kingdom in 774, led a failed campaign into Spain in 778, extended his domain into Bavaria in 788, ordered his son Pepin to campaign against the Avars in 795, and conquered Saxon territories in wars and rebellions fought from 772 to 804."

"The Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Vandals were christianized while they were still outside the bounds of the [Roman] Empire; however, they converted to Arianism rather than Catholicism, and were soon regarded as heretics by Catholics."

-Xian against xian.

Needless to say, all players in ww1 were xian.

Hitler was a Roman catholic. National socialism was obviously patterned after the church, replete with a savior sent by god, a chosen people, a holy book, and a promised land in the east (lebensraum). The SS swore allegiance to this godman 'so wahr mir Gott helfe' (so help me god).

Aug 06, 2019
It's an insane comment too, regardless of the age
Overpopulation has been the norm ever since humans became able to hunt the animals that were hunting them. And every technological advance that eliminated a natural attritive element was accompanied by a corresponding spike in pop growth.

This caused humanity to congeal into tribes for protection and to secure resources. Intertribal conflict became endemic. Refugees fled the strife and violence Africa and spread around the world. And when there was nowhere left to flee they again struggled to protect themselves against subsequent floods of interlopers, as members of ever-larger and more cohesive tribes.

As I said, the greek city-states waged ritual warfare to manage conflict and maintain order. They PLANNED their wars to achieve a predetermined result. And they were the most successful civilization to that point. They didn't invent the system, they only adopted it to great effect.

It made us what we are. It continues.

Aug 06, 2019
They were better at forcing their women to do nothing else but make babies until it killed them.
says SpookyOtto

This is one of Otto's more famous/infamous LIES that women "do nothing else but make babies". He then completes the picture with "until it kills them".

That is a complete falsehood, where it has been known throughout human history that even if a woman had 14 children of her own, after a period of time when she is most fertile, her body is eventually subjected to the female process of MENOPAUSE. She is then able to live a good and long life that enables her to see her grandchildren growing up... and quite often, great-grandchildren.

Otto would have everyone believe in his faerie tales that women, throughout history, had only one task - to have sex, get pregnant, and then be the mother of her husband's children. That is not always the case, since many women were/are barren and cannot conceive. But Otto ignores that fact and instead chooses to tell lies.

Aug 06, 2019
"9. And to Gabriel said the Lord: 'Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates, and against the children of fornication: and destroy [the children of fornication and] the children of the Watchers from amongst men [and cause them to go forth]: send them one against the other that they may destroy each other in battle: for length of days shall they not have." - book of enoch chap 10
says SpookyOtto

For someone such as yourself who professes a strong dislike/hatred for all things religious, particularly Jesus Christ and what is written by Jewish authors of the Bible, you DO have a tendency to blaspheme mightily that which you profess to hate, and yet have such a GREAT AFFINITY FOR, that you feel compelled to state Chapter and Verse just to PROVE your hatred of the Bible and the characters within it, You TELL IN EACH PHORUM OF PHYSORG what you have felt is wrong with human civilisation, including the Maya who had never seen a White man until the Spaniards arrived.

Aug 06, 2019
Uh sorry freak the book of enoch isn't in the bible. ANY believer would know this.

So you're just pretending to be religious just like you're pretending to be a real poster aren't you?

Aug 06, 2019
Uh sorry freak the book of enoch isn't in the bible. ANY believer would know this.

So you're just pretending to be religious just like you're pretending to be a real poster aren't you?
says the freaky SpookyOtto

Nobody ever said that the book of enoch was in the Bible, you idiot. But both are of a religious nature, which seems to be YOUR forte' in spite of your supposed hatred for religious thought.
So you still have doubts, in spite of my posting my comments - you somehow think my posting is all a pretense. Well, the joke's on YOU, stinky. LOL

Aug 06, 2019
"Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't."

In my spare time, I read back issues of physorg articles and the comments. I have noticed that throughout YEARS of your comments, SpookyOtto, you ALWAYS revert to your favourite mantra of "OVERPOPULATION" and the "TRIBAL DYNAMIC", as well as others of slightly less importance, such as women having babies until they drop. LOL
Others in the long past have said that you are a victim of some malady called "Dunning-Kruger". After looking up the term, it seems that you STILL suffer from it - repeating your mantras over and over in so many phorums. Taking up space that could be used by others with a more normal attitude toward humans.

Aug 07, 2019
.....is there no chance some of them wanted to keep ressources, or land to themselves, or declared the Sun-God to have a female voice instead of a male voice, or.....else?
Because Otto's saintly comments are fine and all, but if anything, it brings more confusion to what is already foggy enough. I'd say, since the Mayas doesn't seem as extraordinary as most people thought, we may discover more that could imply classic conflicts, intrigues and many other well known problems....across the world, through the millennias.

Aug 07, 2019
In my spare time, I read back issues of physorg articles and the comments. I have noticed that throughout YEARS of your comments, SpookyOtto, you ALWAYS revert to your favourite mantra of "OVERPOPULATION" and the "TRIBAL DYNAMIC", as well as others of slightly less importance, such as women having babies until they drop. LOL
Who do you think youre fooling freak? Youve been posting for years under various socks such as pirouette, ritchieguy01, obama_socks, racist black guy, jewsrule, pussycat_eyes, russkiye etc. Youre here to ruin the comments section and discourage serious posters.

Everybody whos been here for awhile knows this. The question is why. Whether youre from another site, or from physorg itself, or just some lowlife scumbag with a damaged brain who likes to pretend youre fooling people who were always a lot smarter and happier than you. And a lot less sickly.

No matter. You dont belong here and you know it.

Aug 08, 2019
Stil reverting to telling LIES about your betters, aren't you, Otto. ANYONE with any interest in your past bullshit can look up all of the phorums in which you have spread your crap, and they would SEE exactly the low-life you are - as well as your history of being one of the biggest LIARS in physorg.
I am not interested in your past and present sock puppets. You are one of the most boring misfits in this website. You should learn to do science instead of all your 'social studies' banter as though nobody in physorg could look up historical facts on their own.
You're a STIFF, Otto. And your repeated mantra is not appreciated by anyone in physorg. All you can hope for is impressing some 14 year old who comes wandering in to learn some science, and instead have to put up with your idiocy about overpopulation.
You're nothing but a BORE, Otto.

Aug 08, 2019
If they were so warlike maybe they would have had some defense to keep from being burnt to the ground?

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