History: the ancient world
History: the ancient world
The region occupied by the ancient Aztec and Maya, now commonly referred to as Mesoamerica, is an area encompassing Southern and eastern Mexico, all of Guatemala, Belize an El Salvador, western and southern Honduras and the Pacific side of central America as far as the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. On the other hand, Egypt is located at the Northern part of Africa, along the Mediterranean ocean. Despite the distance between the geographical location of the two, history shows several similarities in their cultures.
Ancient Mesoamerican people and the Egyptians shared a series of cultural traits; among the most striking of the two calendars of 260 and 365 days that perpetuate in a great cycle approximating fifty two years, language similarities, similar methods of construction, specifically the pyramids. There are also other similarities in their ways of life such as trading and farming among many others. Although the people inhibiting the Mesoamerica area were of many distinct cultures, often speaking mutually unintelligible languages, none the less, there was widespread contact over millennia through migrating, trade, conquest and pilgrimage.
The interest in Egyptian and the Mesoamerican archeology arose in the beginning of the 19th century. It was intertwined with important local and global social political developments. Below is a discussion on some of the areas of similarity in the Egyptian and the Mesoamerican cultures. Similarities in the Egyptian and the Mesoamerican pyramids There is also a similarity in the methods of construction of the pyramids by the two cultures, based on the concept of externally oriented architecture.
It is believed that the Egyptian pyramids often had temples placed at the summit of the pyramids, just as houses had been built on top of masonry platforms. For example, in the Puuc style, the stone temple facades resembled the design of the tied twig walls of the Maya house. The tendency of the early stone architecture to imitate reed or wood construction was also seen in the early Egypt. In Zozer’s pyramid complex at Saqqara, stone pillars were carved in the shape of the bundles of papyrus or the palm trees that had been used as supports in the palaces at that time.
Many of the features of the Egyptian pyramids are found in the pyramids of Mesoamerica. At Uximal the pyramid complex was enclosed by a wall as were those of Egypt. Chichen Itza was also a walled city of 30 square kilometer with 7 paved roads, or sacheob, several kilometers long connecting important sites. The paved road between Uxmal and Kabah was 18 km long. These roads or sacheob, resemble the Egyptian pyramid causeways, although their geography was different. Differences in the pyramids
Differences in the Egyptian and the American pyramids have already been noted, although some of them are more apparent than real. There are the differences as a result of time and function. It is said that the famous Egyptian pyramids were built before the year 2000, and the classic pyramids of Maya pyramids came 300 years after. However, history says that the Kushite revival of pyramids c-700 coincides with the construction of the early Olmec pyramids at La Venta. The pyramids of Egypt were conceived as tombs, playing an important part in the religion of the Egyptians.
It has been admitted that the Mesoamerican pyramids were also important in their religion. However, the difference with the Mesoamerican pyramids is that never served as tombs, but were used for another reason. The famous Palenque is proving that at least some pyramids served as tombs in America, but for the important people of the society. There is no doubt that there was a difference in the precise religious function of the Egyptian and the Mesoamerican pyramids, although the exact purpose of the pyramids is contradictory.
Also, there have been no claims to identify the composition and the construction methods of the pyramids. Whereas the Americans made extensive use of small stones, cement and stucco, the Egyptians used much larger stones while sparingly using the mortar. Astronomy and the calendar In both the Egyptian and the Mesoamerican complexes, the astronomical orientation played an important role. Both the Mesoamerican and the Egyptian civilizations had developed scientific calendars, as was common to all the agricultural societies. For this reason, they paid close attention to the solar and the lunar cycles.
In Mesoamerica, close attention was given to the Venus cycle, which helped shape the calendar. Unlike the classical Greeks, the Maya knew that the morning and the evening stars were the same heavenly body (Venus). The Mesoamericans calculated that an 8-year solar cycle equaled a 5-year Venus cycle. Although the Mesoamericans knew that the solar year was a little over 365 days, they also made extensive use of a 260 day cycle which had no parallel in the Egyptian calendar. The Egyptians, on the other hand, had studied all the visible constellations in developing their star clocks.
A different star was chosen every ten days (the Egyptian week) as the new decan star to mark the last hour of the night. The modern time measurement of 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night measurement had its own origin in the ancient Egypt. They had also developed a constant civil calendar of 365 days. However, the Egyptian calendar, with an early development of 4241 was far more ancient than that of Mesoamerica. Language similarity The precise history of the of the ancient languages of the people of Egypt and Mesoamerica remains a mystery even up to today, and the origin of the two cultures is also uncertain.
The reason for the demise of the cultures of the people of Maya is uncertain, but the tragic devastation of the Aztec culture is all too well known. Although there is limited evidence, a number of scholars have suspected that these two regions, although from different parts of the world have come into contact between themselves during the ancient times. However, it has been denied that the encounter between these two cultures was a prolonged one. Other scholars have suggested that there could be a possibility that these two cultures never came into contact at all.
Despite the contradictions among the scholars, the similarities between these two cultures are major and cannot be ignored. There is an assumption that the Egyptians and the Mesoamericans shared a common language which made it possible to exchange the ideas. The reasoning behind the similarities between the two languages is that there must have been contact between people from the two regions. There are many similarities in the linguistic correspondences between the two languages, which remove the possibility of just a contact between the Egyptians and the Mesoamericans.
The possibility of a spontaneous coincidence has also been ruled out, because of the existence of similar sounds and meanings in some words. Application of Mathematics Mathematics was also developed at quite a high level in both cultures. This shows that they were able to make measurements during the construction of the pyramids, and also in other areas that could have required the application of mathematics. Today, it is clear that the Mesoamerican arithmetic is readily adaptable to the operations of multiplication and division as well as the simpler addition and subtraction operation.
The difference in the numbering systems of the two cultures was that the Egyptian numbering system was additive, base 10, making extensive use of fractions and did not have a symbol for zero. On the other hand, the Mesoamerican system used base 20, was positional, was the first to invent a symbol for zero but as far as history shows, it did not use fractions. There are no detailed records of the Mesoamerican written materials, due to an order that was given by the Spanish authorities to burn down all Native American books.
The Mesoamerican and the Egyptian writings were both rooted in their own separate cultures and iconography. It is not known if the first use of the paper in Mesoamerica received an impulse from Africans who were already familiar with papyrus writing materials. Several plant materials were used by the Maya of Mesoamerica to make “paper”. The famous maguey cactus and the amatl tree from which “amate” is made are some of the materials that were used to write on. Materials from the tree were soaked, washed, pounded, cut into small pieces and pounded again, a process that is not so different from that of making the papyri.
Farming activities Both the Egyptians and the Mesoamericans relied on agriculture for food. During the early years, the Maya of Mesoamerica started civilizing. They built small radiating canal systems in a low rainfall area of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, which is assumed to have been used to irrigate crops. Irrigation was so important, as more than 85% of all the farming in Mesoamerica relied on canal irrigation. In Egypt, farming was common along river Nile. Irrigation was at first done through the over flooding water from the river at the farms along the river.
Later on, they adopted the method of fetching water and pouring it directly to the crops, which was later on replaced with the digging of canals to redirect the water to the farms. Trade in Egypt and Mesoamerica Due to the farming activities along the river Nile, the people of Egypt engaged themselves in trading activities amongst themselves. They then upgraded to trading with the people of Mesopotamia, and later on with those from the kingdom of Kush towards the South. There are historians who believe that the Egyptian picture writing, or hieroglyphics, was developed from Sumerian cuneiform as a result of trade contracts with Mesopotamia.
In Mesoamerica, long distance trade first developed in Maya. The first of these was a shift in the bulk of east west commerce from the ancient pre classic trade routes along the Pacific coastal plain and the coast of Yucatan to the central-Maya routes through the highlands and, more important, along the rivers across the lowlands. The second development was the emergence of a new Mesoamerican power centre at Teotihuacan, which was able to re-unify the long distance trade network during the early classic period.
The trade differences in the two societies could be as a result of the differences in the goods traded by the two societies. Although they all specialized in farming practices, they planted different crops, which they used as trading commodities. Conclusion There are many similarities between the Mesoamericans and the Egyptians. Although it is not clear to any historians how these similarities came to be, the possibility of a mere coincidence in the cultures has been out ruled.
This essay has highlighted some of the some of the areas of similarity such as the pyramids, the calendars, farming activities and trade, to prove a relation in the cultures of the Mesoamericans and the Egyptians. However, more research needs to be done to prove how these people from difference continents came to adopt such similar cultures. Future research should also focus on finding out whether there are other ways of life that the two cultures shared. Reference 1) Jerry H. Bentley, Herbert F. Ziegler, “Traditions and Encounters”, 4th edition, Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008. ISBN 978-0-07-333062-4