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October 26, 2007

cancun2007-028.jpgWhat most defines a civilization , it’s technology or it’s practices?  We traveled to Chichen-Itza while in Mexico last week, and I thoughtI’d share a few thoughts and impressions, having previously also visited Tulum

Technology can enable a society, but doesn’t necessarily define it.    We have been on earth for thousands of years, yet our attention span and awareness often seems  tightly rooted in the present.    Consider the definitive technologies of our modern civlization that might spring to mind.    The iPhone? The PC?   Discovery of Radium?  Invention of the motor car?   Our present civilization and way of life is based largely upon technologies and materials that have been known less than 100 years.   How has our sociology changed?  How have our beliefs changed?  How about our behaviors?  If our present day society were to be studied 1000 years from now, what would most define us?  Our technology, or our social practices?  What we had, or what we did?

goal21.jpgThe Mayans were quite technologically advanced in many ways, and sometime after the merger with the Toltecs, they built this sports arena.   The arena was a long rectangle with box canyon walls.  The architecture, reflected some rather advanced technology.  The Mayans were into numbers in a big way – in this case, seven.  The opposing walls were set apart at an exact distance to create seven echos – no more, no less.   The game was played on the field between the walls, with two teams of seven players.  Each team had  six on the field, and one who ran back and forth on a runway set into the wall.  The players on the field would battle for possession of a 2 lb rubber ball, and would pass it via curved sticks, to their captain, the runner on the wall, who would then try to fling the ball through the stone ring shown here. 

Only one point was required to win the game. It was a pre-cursor to the “sudden death” over-time periods found in sports today.  In this case however, it was literally death.  The “winner”, the captain who scored the point was sacrificially beheaded in a ceremony here, the temple of the warriors. cancun2007-025.jpg

By standards of today, the civilization was technologically advanced  in the understanding of the solar system, measurement of time, architecture, and engineering, yet engaged in societal practices that seem anything but civil.  

4 Comments leave one →
  1. sweetlybroken permalink
    October 29, 2007 11:23 am

    GREAT post. Tons of further thought material.
    When our retrospect occurs I wonder how we will be viewed. Technologically we are farther advanced than the Mayan yet we are less “civil”ized than they were. The Mayan world was only as big as the distance they could walk so they knew everyone they encountered.
    Today we can “chat” with someone on a different continent and still not know who lives next door to us.
    I would love to hear what the world ,1000 years from now, thought about our world today. Very thought provoking post.

  2. October 29, 2007 12:56 pm


    Our technological prowess is growing geometrically, but our undertstanding of ourselves has not improved much at all. Our focus is outward. If we are still here in 1000 years and we look back, I wonder, as do you, how this period of time would be viewed.

    I also note just how much man has remained the same. Rullers still find ways to rise above those they rule ( the Mayans used dress, and special construction to amplify sound and create special light effects at specific times of the year when proclamations were delivered).

    The sacrifices were all attrbuted to the arrival of the Toltecs, which I find somehow incongruitous, given the book, “The 4 agreements”, which is supposedly derived from Toltec wisdom. How could such advanced philopsphy linked to really advanced religeous awareness co-exist with such barbarous practices of human sacrifices?

  3. November 1, 2007 11:07 am

    Civilization is a term that doesn’t guarantee a certain level of behavior. Is water-boarding civilized? Were the Roman games civilized? What it civilized of the whites to use biological warfare on the native Indians of America? Civilization is a reflection of intellectual achievement not moral enlightenment. You don’t have to scratch very deeply to uncover human’s weaknesses and faults. As humans we are constantly tugged by contrary urges as varied as our motivations.

  4. November 9, 2007 5:17 am

    Some might apply the “only as strong as the weakest link” philosophy. How great is a civilization, if measured by its worst qualities?

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