According to Crow, no Inca, Aztec or Maya wrote what we can analytically decipher today as a complete sentence. There is no inscribed chronological recount of these civilizations. What we know about them today is derived from writings of Spaniards who conquered the new world as well as from archaeological findings. These civilizations are said to have been born out of the largely migratory and hunter gatherer tribe of Indians. There settlement was perhaps facilitated by the discovery of corn which enabled this people to settle down as they could now produce a substantial quantity of food that was sufficient for their survival instead of constantly having to forage. This excerpt will attempt to compare the three civilizations with the aim of determine which of the three was the most civilized from a 21st century view point
The Mayas were the first of these earlier tribes to make the most of the new agricultural existence. The Mayans first settled on the extremely fertile plains of Mexico where they prospered mightily before migration to the Guatemalan lowlands where they established the first great Indian culture. This sufficiency enabled them stability to develop a culture (Crow 6).
Like other early civilizations, the Mayan's religion was fused with art giving their culture a beauty and refinement unlike that of other indigenous American people. However, they concentrated mainly on the spiritual, refined and purely aesthetic at the expense of material techniques geared towards supporting life. While the Incas built great stone cities, vast irrigation systems as well as a social society blended into one, the Mayans did not. The Mayans dwellings were in the bush surrounding the great religious structures. The houses were flimsy and made out of mud and reeds (Crow 6). Outstanding ceremonies were the only time they gathered in these magnificent centers as one large population to worship and reaffirm their single destiny (Crow 7).
The agricultural existence, a more permanent contract for the Indian, eventually pushed them to be more time conscious so as to determine the cultivation cycles and avoid possible extinction from hunger. This resulted in the Mayan calendar. This calendar is based on the correlation of the shorter cycles of the moon and the sun's and Venus's longer cycle. A year is made up of three hundred and sixty-five days. The year has eighteen months with each having twenty days as well as an additional 5 unlucky days. The dates were known by most Mayans in their cities than in the civilizations of imperial Rome, Greece and Babylonia. The Mayans calendar was the most accurate one in the world until Pope Gregory initiated the modifications to the current calendar we use today (Crow 8).
The calendar is not the supreme expression of Maya Culture; this title is accorded to the Mayan Heliography. The system of sculpted hieroglyphics by the Mayans was highly refined. The veritable motifs were made of complex symbols that were executed with apparent loving care. These are comparable to those in Egypt, Babylonia and China and have no equal in indigenous America (Crow 8).
None of the indigenous American civilizations learned the use of the true arch and as such the rooms in the great temples constructed by the Mayans were small and dingy with massive walls and low roofs to ensure safety. The religious architecture stands magnificent with elaborate sculpture, stonework, brilliant frescoes and their perfect sense of symmetry. The Mayans also produced finely wrought objects made out of jade, magnificent feather work and beautifully curved wood. They also had amazing skill in their textiles and polychrome pottery. They had an outstanding knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, and written language which is very close to literary expression. This is why the Mayans are popularly referred to as the Greeks of the new world (Crow 17).
The Mayans had an interest in sports which perhaps came to be as a form of ritualistic expression. There centers has a larger ball court where they played a form of basketball with the ball being made out of rubber, an invention not yet made outside of the Americas then. This represents the first use of rubber in human history. The game was both ritual and recreational (Crow 20).
The Inca civilization represented a large and very closely integrated culture group on the American continent. They were led by a chieftain who was known as "the Inca", meaning "Lord" or "great ruler" . They occupied the mountainous region of South America from the Middle of Chile to northern Ecuador and from the pacific coast to the Brazilian jungles foothills. The Incas developed the most extensive empire in the Americas, an impressive feat considering the terrain of their kingdom: gigantic snow-capped ranges, deep gorges, unfriendly barren soil that worked against economic development and political unity. The entire empire still remained a closely knit state that was ruled by a powerful emperor. The notion of statehood and rank rose from tribal and folk culture, with the government subdivided down till the local level. The local rulers were however kept in check as the emperor required his subject's total obedience. The civilization was still flourishing when the Spaniards conquered the Americas (Crow 23).
Religion and state to the Incas were one. The closely knit tribal structure was such that every man was assured a job and every job was assured a worker. This included division of land and communal agriculture with the doctrine of enforced cooperation permeating the entire fabric of living as well as thinking amongst the Inca people. This social organization was unrivaled by either the Aztec or the Mayans (Crow 27).
The community or clan formed the basis of the Inca society. Work, government and land ownership was all communal. Eventually a system of land division emerged with land being in three parts (a piece for the sun, a piece for the Inca man and a piece for the community). The Inca used dead fish heads and guano droppings as fertilizer on their land. The Incas represent the greatest all round engineers in the new world. This civilization is known for their massive stone structures and immense fortress cities that dwarf others in the new world. In addition they also had a superlative system of agriculture (aqueducts and terraced farms), fine crafts and arts (Crow 39).
The Aztecs civilization was made up of war-like, blood-letting warrior who merged with the Toltecs. The Aztecs were represented the strongest power in the Americas and forced their will on other tribes that surrounded them. They however failed to constitute a nation in cultural, economical or political sense over the territory they ruled over. Although the Aztecs allowed some sort of elections, the candidates belonged to a fixed aristocracy. All men were warriors apart for a few priests with those who died in battle entering heaven directly (Crow 47).
The culture and way of life was violent and oppressive with death being the most frequent penalty for crime. A heavy tribute met rose they conquered and terror and cruelty reigned to curb rebellion. Aztec tax collectors would circulate amongst the subject tribes to enforce prompt payment. Those captured in battle were either sacrificed on the altar or sold into slavery. The bitter and deep hatred for the Aztecs contributed to the success of the Spaniards. The bloodthirsty War and Sun gods were the supreme deity of Aztec tradition (Crow 50).
The Aztecs built pyramids much like those constructed by the Maya. Although they were much larger, the finishing was not as good as that of the Mayans. They had terraces, stairways and a considerable amount of sculpting with truncated tops as opposed to pointed ones. This is because the temple was constructed at the top. Two of their pyramids are much larger than those constructed by the Egyptians. The pyramid of the Sun is two hundred feet tall without including the temple. The entire Teotihuacan valley is dedicated to the imposing buildings with the entire valley covered in plaster floor. This was a ceremonial center as opposed to residential city (Crow 46).
The Aztecs calendar, although fairly accurate, and their understanding of astronomy, which undoubtedly eclipses their knowledge of other sciences, was inherited from the Mayas. The Aztec hieroglyphics, although many years into the future compared to that of the Mayans, was of a more primitive quality. It represented picture writings of the Aztec's tributes, laws, ritual, legend and chronology. There arts and crafts on the other hand was of superior quality (Crow 51-52).
The basis of their agriculture, which was the least extensive of the three, was based on communal ownership of farming land just like the Incas and the Mayas. Although currency did not exist in this civilization, tin that was stamped with a "T", pieces of copper, and quills of gold dust and bags of cacao beans was used as money. The Aztecs had a market every five days where they traded in a huge variety of items that were of high quality. The Aztecs were also known cannibals with banquet meals featuring slaves' meat (Crow 53).
The Aztec culture prohibited freedom of thought, personal fortunes and individual liberty, with the population living under a code. They had a strong sense of religion and community where arts and craft played an important purpose (Crow 60).
Although the Mayans represented a race of people of superior intellect like no other in the new world, this was only limited to a class of nobles and priests while the common man was as much a savage as the other. There exists a clear disconnect between the Mayan people and the advancements they made in their civilization. As such there was not social organism or the techniques for supporting life The Aztec on the other hand represent a civilization that was too bent on domination of others which made them savagery in nature. From a 21st century point of view, the Inca represent the most civilized of the three, with unquestionable structural building prowess as well as a social organization that is unrivaled by the others as well as one that span a vast area of geographical challenges.