Origins Of the Mayan Civilisation Unearthed

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 2012 has told us very little about the Mayans– their prediction of the end of the world is just a tiny drop in the ocean that is their culture. And the origins of their civilisation are just as mysterious and complex. However, we have come one step closer to discovering them in 2013.

Who, what, when, where?

Ancient Mayan Pyramid

Ancient Mayan Pyramid, via pixabay

A husband-and-wife duo of anthropologists Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan lead a team of archaeologists on an ancient Mayan site called Ceibal back in 2013. What they found on site, located on the Guatemalan territory, were pieces of monumental ancient Mayan architecture, including small platforms for pyramids and other ritual architecture.

These findings are a clear indication of the fact that the origins of the Mayan civilisation are a lot more complex than we previously thought. There are two prevalent theories on the subject. According to the first one, the Mayans descended from the Olmec people from La Venta. The second theory claims that they developed entirely on their own.

Who were the Olmec?

Olmec tomb at La Venta Park, Villahermosa, Tabasco.

Olmec tomb at La Venta Park, Villahermosa, Tabasco. Credits: Wikimedia

The Olmec civilisation was an ancient civilisation that was centred in La Venta. The theory about the Mayan civilisation being a “daughter” of the Olmec one claims that the people who eventually formed the Mayan city-states were actually the people living on the outskirts of La Venta during the Olmec civilisation.  Until the Ceibal find in 2013, this theory was believed to be true – the only other theory that was taken seriously is below.

Developed in the jungles on its own?

Mexico Jungle

Mexico Jungle, Credits: pixabay

Supporters of the second theory believe that the Mayan civilisation had developed independently in the jungles of what is now Mexico and Guatemala. According to the theory, no culture other than indigenous played a part in the development of the ancient nation.

So which theory is true?

It would seem that both theories were considering the origins of the Mayan civilisation as something absolute. However, the findings in Ceibal could very well shed a different light on them and it does seem that not everything’s black and white.

How did Mayan civilisation actually originate?

Maya pottery that depicts ritual

Maya pottery that depicts ritual, via

Neither of the theories appears to paint the full picture, after all. The ritualistic elements of the Mayan culture found on the site in Guatemala tell us that the site pre-dates the center of the Olmec civilisation by at least two centuries. This eliminates the possibility that the Olmec were solely responsible for the development of the Mayan civilisation.

However, these findings aren’t enough to dismiss the Olmec influence completely. There were a lot of similarities between religious practices of the Olmec and the Mayans, particularly the pyramids. The married couple and their team that lead the excavations in Ceibal believe that the findings tell us about a cultural shift that occurred sometime in 1,000 BC. Ceibal appears to be in the very center of this shift. We don’t yet know how far this shift has outreached, but what we do know is that the findings had made the origins of the Mayan civilisation all the more interesting and complex.


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