Monday, March 23, 2015

EXPLORING THE ANCIENT MAYA RUINS OF DZIBILCHALTUN

My expedition to the ancient Maya ruins of Dzibilchaltun was a success, and an experience I'll never forget. It is hard to describe what it was like to walk in the footsteps of people that lived here over 2,000 years ago. I've wanted follow these paths ever since I was 6 years old and watched one of my favorite cartoons, "The Mysterious Cities of Gold."
The stone at the entrance of the ruins
Dzibilchaltun, which means, "writing stone," in Mayan, is an ancient Maya city in the north east of the Yucatan peninsula. Although not the largest of the Maya cities, archeologists think it is one of the oldest. At its height they estimate a population of 200,000 people and it covers an area of 35 square miles. It is believed that people first started living in this city around 300 B.C. Its famous structure, "The Temple of the Seven Dolls," was used as a tool to determine the start of spring and fall. The city was named Dzibilchaltun by archeologists due to all of the stones with writing on them found within the ruins. 

We took a 45 minute bus ride from Progreso to the ruins. There wasn't much to see because this part of the Yucatan is so flat. There is a museum at the site which holds many artifacts and delicate items found in the ruins, including things from the time after the Spanish conquest. They were really cool to see but what I was interested in was there long before the Spanish arrived. 

Our tour guide, Wilburt, explained that he was a direct descendant of the Maya people. Not only could he speak Spanish and English, but he knew the native Mayan language that was used 2,000 years ago. 

Wilburt explains that on the Spring and Autumn Equinox, the sun will align perfectly with the doorway of the temple and shine through and at noon the sun will be directly over head and illuminate the room inside. He said that the Maya used this to know when to plant and when to harvest their crops. Food was obviously a big deal to them so these days were very important.

The "Mongolian Spot," is something I knew about before this trip but Wilburt explained that his people are born with this genetic mark. It is known as the Mongolian Spot because Mongolians are born with it and it means that you have Mongolian DNA. It is a wide belief that Native Americans came from Asia through Alaska, and this genetic birth mark could prove where the Maya and Mexicans came from originally. HOWEVER, something I found at the site makes me doubt this is entirely true.....(more on that later.)

 When you walk the winding path through the trees that lead to the ruin city, you come to a long road. This is the first sight you see to your left. In the distance is the Temple of the Seven Dolls. Amazing that it was built 2,000 years ago. This was to our left and to our right was the rest of the city and what is known as the central plaza. The road connected the temple to the rest of the city that had all of the other important buildings. Wilburt explained that the people didn't actually live in the city, they lived closely around it and the buildings were only for religious, civic, or celebratory reasons.
These are stelae and they are the first thing you see. 

The center of the city was a large square. This was very important to the Maya culture because they believed the earth was flat and that it was a square so they found this shape to be how their city should be constructed. Squares and rectangles were highly important to the Maya when it came to design. The large building in the middle came later and was built by the Spanish after the conquest. It is a Catholic church. It is amazing to see something 100's of years old. The Maya people didn't appreciate having a church built in the middle of their city.

 This wall-looking structure is actually an ancient form of bleachers! People sat in the them for important religious ceremonies or important events. Directly across from them is the large pyramid of the city and I took these shots from the important section of seats. Wilburt explained that we were sitting in the area that would have been reserved for the rich or nobles.


The large pyramid towers above the ruins.
 These extra seats were on the opposite side and the view was blocked by the big Church built by the Spanish. The Maya people would have never put any structure in the middle of their plaza but the Spanish didn't really care. The Spanish also used stones from other buildings so who knows what else was here before they showed up. Behind me is the cenote and I had a great view of it from here. A, "cenote," is a sinkhole and there are many of them throughout the Yucatan peninsula.
I stand on some of the ruins. 



The inside of this church is actually in the museum and was very impressive for being so old. 

Cenotes can be found all over the Yucatan as it is made up almost entirely of limestone. This particular cenote was 146 feet deep. Many of the sinkholes were believed to be passage ways to the underworld because the Maya believed you needed water to travel to the underworld. In other sites they have found bones from bodies that were cast into the sinkholes to be messengers to the gods. The Maya didn't think throwing people into a deep pit killed them, but they continued to live in the underworld with some of the gods. Archeologists believe this sinkhole wasn't used for anything like that. You were allowed to swim in it and I couldn't wait because it was so hot out and this water looked so inviting! There were little fish in it that didn't seem to mind the people. In fact, the fish would come right up to you and I learned that this species of fish only exists right here in this sinkhole and no where else in the entire world, that's pretty amazing! After a lap around this ancient swimming hole, I was off to see more ruins. 


This large pyramid was very impressive and was a very important part of the city. I climbed to the top to get a good look of the city. The Maya lived on a cycle of 52 years. Every 52 years they should rebuild and add structures to their remaining structures because it was a time to renew and to start over. This pyramid started out much smaller but they added to it over the years. The view from the top was amazing. You can really see the design of the city and the square that they wanted was ruined by the Catholic church. The seating areas were also being updated every 52 years, I suspect most of it was due to the population getting larger over the years. 

From atop the pyramid, this view was directly below it.

From atop the pyramid, this was the view slightly to the left. 

From atop the pyramid, this view was slightly to the right. 

This view was behind the pyramid. 
From on top of the pyramid you could see just about everything. I noticed an opening in part of the lower pyramid and thought I'd take a closer look. I found an opening and a stairway that led under the pyramid! I knew I had to go explore the inside.
I spot an opening. 
 I followed these stairs and found myself on the inside of the pyramid. No one from our group had done this yet. I have to say I really felt like Indiana Jones or someone going inside an Egyptian pyramid for the first time.
 I found some carved stones. This was hard to see and it looks extremely old but it was easier to see in person. This was the first carving at the bottom of the stairs when you first enter. 


 This was an amazing find on the inside of the pyramid. It looks very similar to the one found in the museum and that one was supposed to honor the leader of the city. I touched this one and followed the carving with my hand, to think someone over 2,000 years ago created and touched this as well, is a pretty amazing feeling.
As I took pictures and marveled at what I had found, I heard more people from our group walking outside and I heard one of them exclaim that he found a cave and that they should go into it. I thought, he will be shocked to find me down here so I better leave. I headed out and as I came up the stairs the other guy wasn't expecting this, he screamed like a girl and jumped! He clutched his chest and said, "Oh it's just a guy and not some ancient temple guard!" I told him there was some pretty neat stuff down there. I felt kind of bad for scaring him, considering his screams could be heard all over the ancient city. 

 After leaving the pyramid, I walked for a while until I found this small temple by itself. I also bumped into our tour guide Wilburt, who had let us go and explore on our own. I had a talk with him and he was a very nice man. He also cleared up some confusion about Chac, the rain god, which I appreciated. Not sure what this temple was for but I wanted to go inside. Archeologists had made a wooden gate that you couldn't get past so I could only look inside.


The view from the smaller temple.
I went to the large seating area. When these were in use, they were completely covered with stucco. Some of it can still be seen. Wilburt said not only would they have been smooth with stucco, but they would have been brightly colored as well. In the center of these seats was another temple. Wilburt said it was the oldest part of the wall and it was clear that the Maya had continued to build on top of it, adding more and more over the years. You cold see down inside, but again a gate prevented me from getting a closer look. From on top of this structure you could see much of the city. There were many things behind this area as well. There is actually much more to uncover and discover in this ancient city and archeologists are still at work even though this site was first discovered in the 1950's. There are 8,000 documented structures in this city.



A view from the very top. 

Behind the massive wall seats, another temple still being uncovered. 

You can see the seats in the distance. These were the important seats and it is where I was sitting earlier.

This was the large pyramid that I had already explored. There were no people on it now so I thought I'd get pictures of it. I imagine it was probably covered in stucco and brightly colored at one point. You can be sure that some people were sacrificed here too. I was ready to head to the other end of the ruin city for what most people come to see, the famous, and scientifically and astronomically awesome, "Temple of the Seven Dolls."



The temple is a good walk away and at this point my group had decided to call it quits and headed back to the museum, I went on alone. There is a big stelae in front of the temple. You can see right through the temple itself because the doorway is on both sides, that's on purpose. The Temple of the Seven Dolls was named that because when archeologists first found this structure, there were 7 dolls on the inside. Those dolls can now be seen in the museum. I imagine that the Maya probably dedicated this temple to the harvest or for planting because that was its main function, to tell the people when to start planting and when to harvest. Perhaps when it was in use it was called The Temple of Yum Kax, as he was the god of corn?



 If you can believe it, the Spring Equinox was taking place the very next week after these pictures were taken. I missed it by several days! Just like 2,000 years ago, when the sun rises on the Spring or Autumn Equinox, it will align perfectly with this opening and shine through. At noon when the sun is directly overhead, the opening in the top of the temple allows the suns rays to come down and the entire  room is full of light. People come from all over to whiteness this event.
This is what happens on the Equinox. 




I said goodbye to the ancient temple and headed back to the museum because there was so much more to see there! That is also where I made my most startling and mysterious discovery. 

These were some various statues that were placed around the outside of the museum. All of them very interesting in their own way. Just knowing these were carved 2,000 years ago by people that are no longer here made me marvel at them. One of them stood out more than the others. 







The statue below was startling and erie to see up close. Just look at the footwear, look at the waist and what it wears around it, and most importantly look at what is on its head. Many people, myself included, feel this clearly depicts the attire of an Egyptian. It is shocking and confusing why a statue would be found in Mexico over 2,000 years ago. We have many carvings and drawings from the ancient Maya and Aztecs, even from their Spanish conquerers and no where are they seen wearing these kinds of clothes. I know most scientists believe the native people came from Asia but when you view this statue it makes the idea of Egyptians coming to the Americas something to consider. The pyramid building alone has to raise questions but now looking at this statue I have to seriously wonder. Could it be that some how, at some point, Egyptians had contact with Mexico?
Ancient Maya statue of an Egyptian???
 Inside the museum were many wonderful artifacts and statues from long ago. There wasn't enough time for me to see everything in the detail that I had wanted but I still got some great shots. There were so many things that had been recovered from the ruins including pots, plates, statues, tools, carvings, and even a skeleton! 

A serpent statue 


A bat statue. Bats were believed to be messengers from the underworld. 










Not sure if this was a Spaniard or a Maya. 

Part of the inside of the church. 



And so my trip to Dzilbilchaltun had come to an end. I wish I could have spent more time there and I would love to go back.  People say there are other Mayan ruins that are even better than this one, I find that hard to believe because I loved every second of this trip. It really did exceed my expectations, by a lot. I would recommend this trip to anyone, even if you aren't into history or the ancient Maya culture as I am, you can still appreciate and enjoy this ruin city. 


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