Architecture and Burials in the Maya and Aztec Essay

This essay has a total of 1221 words and 6 pages.

Architecture and Burials in the Maya and Aztec



Plundering and carnage were the overlying results of the Spanish conquest of MesoAmerica
beginning in 1519. The ensuing years brought many new "visitors," mostly laymen or
officials in search of wealth, though the Christianity toting priest was ever present.
Occasionally a man from any of these classes, though mainly priests would be so in awe of
the civilization they were single handedly massacring that they began to observe and
document things such as everyday life, religious rituals, economic goings on, and
architecture, which was the biggest achievement in the eyes of the Spaniards. That is how
the accounts of Friar Diego de Landa, a priest, were created, giving us rare first per-son
historical accounts of the conquest and the people it effected.

To archaeologists monumental architecture is more important than an inscribed stelae
listing names and dates. There is so much more to learn from a building than a slab of
stone usually seething with propaganda. In most societies they are what remains after
conquest, usually for their beauty or ability to withstand the elements. Landa was amazed
by what he found. "There are in Yucatan many edifices of great beauty, this be-ing the
most outstanding of all things discovered in the Indies; they are all build of stone
finely ornamented…" (Landa, 8). If it were a commoners domestic dwelling we would learn
through the study of remaining artifacts and middens what objects were used on a daily
basis and also the standard of living, helping us to construct an accurate view of the
long neglected commoner. According to Landa steepled roofs covered with thatch or palm
leaves protected the habitat from rain. Homes were often divided into two sections, a
living section, customarily whitewashed, and a domestic area where food was prepared and
inhabitants slept (Landa, 32). In Aztec societies commoners often lived in calpolli, a
residential area segregated by occupation, usually surrounded by walls for protection
(Smith, 145). If it were a domestic dwelling for a noble it would be larger than a
com-moner's dwelling, and usually consisted of more than one large structures occasionally
located on a platform near the center of the town. The high status is obvious by the
in-clusion of more elaborate and ornamental objects and frequently frescos adorned the
walls.

Monumental Architecture of public and private buildings are one of the best indi-cators of
the size and importance of a site. The size of the structure has direct corrolation to
the power held by the leader, in his ability to conduct peasants to construct the
build-ing. Temples and plazas were the main objects of monumental construction and often
rival the pyramids of Egypt in quality and size. Temples were often pyramid like
struc-tures that were built, facing east, over the cremated remains of a priest or ruler.
With each acceding ruler the temple was made larger by building over the previous, thus
the layering effect so often uncovered. Different styles of decoration and construction
were used by each culture during different periods. "In contrast to earlier Mesoamerican
pyramids with a single temple built on top and a single stairway up the side, the pyramids
built by the Early Aztec peoples had twin temples and double stairways" (Smith, 43).
"There are several complexes of Esperanza architecture at Kaminaljuyu…these are stepped
temple platforms with the typical Teotihuacan talud-tablero motif…" (Coe, 84). Then in
less than three hundred years there was a completely different style of architec-ture in
the area, "Characteristic of Puuk buildings are facings of very thin squares of limestone
veneer over the cement-and-rubble core; boot-shaped vault stones…and the exuberant use of
stone mosaics on upper facades, emphasizing the usual monster-masks with long, hook-shaped
snouts, as well as frets and lattice-like designs of criss-crossed elements" (Coe, 157).
Mesoamerican architecture has withstood the test of time, many of the structures not
destroyed during the conquest still stand today, whereas numerous Spanish buildings do
not.

In pre-modern history, throughout the world burials have been customarily simi-lar,
irregardless the distance. Whether this is coincidence or not will be determined at some
point in the future, but for now I am of the opinion that since many cultures wor-shipped
similar gods many of their customs will be comparable. For example many cul-tures,
including the Aztecs and the Maya buried bodies in the fetal position facing east. More
often than not various foods and goods were placed in the grave to accompany the deceased
in the next life. Burials usually followed some ritual and occurred near the home, which
would be abandoned soon after (Landa, 57). If they were not cremated the body would be
wrapped in a shroud and buried in the temple (Coe, 76). It is believed that many Aztec
adults, though commoners, were cremated, mainly because of the lack of adult burials found
(Smith, 142). Nobles and priests were cremated and placed in an urn or hollow statue and
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