Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Mesoamerican Biggies

Or, Maya, Aztec and Olmec civilizations - Part 3 in the series of the trip (Part 1) that led to the inspiration (Part 2) for my first novel.

The Maya first settled around 2600 B.C. in early Mesoamerica (what is now Mexico and Guatemala). They became more sophisticated in the latter years (A.D. 250 through A.D. 900) from the influence of the Olmecs who came on the scene later (1400 B.C.—lasting about 1000 years).

The Olmecs built no major cities or pyramids as the Maya did, but were good farmers, artists, mathematicians, and astronomers. They wrote in hieroglyphics, as did most of the cultures that followed them. The giant round Olmec heads (3-meters or 9 ft. tall) resemble African warriors. The name “Olmec” was derived from Aztec writings. We don’t know what they called themselves.

Only after the Maya adopted much of their culture from the Olmecs, did they go on to create their impressive legacy that today extends through Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize and Honduras. They were ruled by powerful war lord kings and priests. What happened to the Maya as a great civilization is still a mystery with many theories (though their descents are still alive today).

The Aztecs followed about 400 years after the Mayan civilization began to shrink. In the early 1300s, so the story goes, the wandering tribe of Mexica people were looking for a home. Persecuted and cast out from other nations, they believed that their god, Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, the sun and human sacrifice, would show them a sign to guide them to their new settlement. Huitzilopochtli is said to have directed the wandering tribe to look for “the prickly pear cactus upon which they would see an eagle perched,” and that's where they would build their new city (the symbol used on the
Mexican flag).

They found such a place on a small, swampy island in the middle of (what is now known as) Lake Texcoco and founded Tenochtitlan, in A.D. 1325. Later, the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs and they built Mexico City over Tenochtitlan.

There is evidence of a connection between the Aztecs and Native Americans. Obsidian and macaw feathers from further south in Mexico have been in found in the Southwest United States—so there were obviously trade routes between the two areas. Southwest Native Americans built ball courts and doorways in styles similar to their counterparts farther South in Maya territory. The ancient world was definitely connected.

The setting for my novel, Dance the Dream Awake, is on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula near Tulum—Maya country. Both present day and past life take place around the Cobá pyramid complex (a large metropolis composed of many cities within the eastern Yucatan).

Although only a few of the estimated 6,500 structures have been uncovered on Coba’s quiet and peaceful grounds, it may have once had the largest population (an estimated 100,000 people) living in its domain of all the ancient Mayan cities (600-900 A.D.).

My novel about to be released this week (May 9) is a romantic suspense, so today I’ll share a snippet of the romance that begins to brew on the plane to Mexico City when Tessa first meets Nick, an archaeologist with a dig at Coba, close to where she will be staying.
The final boarding call was being announced when I reached the half-empty plane late that night. I felt stressed and wanted a last cigarette. Quitting was the pits.
As soon as the plane was in the air, I ordered a gin and tonic and buried myself in a magazine until the flight attendant returned. After downing half my drink in one gulp, I sat back, took a deep breath and closed my eyes, trying not to want that cigarette.
“Can I buy you another drink? You’ll be through that one pretty quick.”
I looked into the palest green eyes I’d ever seen. I hadn’t noticed the man who’d slipped into the seat across the aisle.
He smiled. “You look super stressed,” he said. “If it’s the flying, another drink will take the edge off.”
I sat a little straighter. He was tall, I could tell by the way his tanned legs spilled out of his khaki shorts and straddled the seat in front of him. The rolled-up sleeves of his blue, cotton shirt revealed muscular arms.
“Maybe one more. Thanks.” His manner soothed me.
“Vacationing in Mexico City?” he asked.
“I’ll be staying in the Yucatan.”
His face brightened. “What a coincidence. I’m headed for the Yucatan, too. I’m meeting up with some of my colleagues down there, on the peninsula in Coba. Anthropological research on the Maya.” He lowered his voice and leaned close. “We have a new archeological dig in the jungle near one of the older pyramids.”
“The Maya?”
“Yeah, there have been some exciting new discoveries recently and we’re right in the thick of it.”
His enthusiasm reminded me of a boy opening a packet of gum, hoping to find his first Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron baseball card, or whoever it was that young boys looked for these days. He rattled off some technical details to impress me. I half-paid attention to what he was saying, wondering at this uncanny coincidence. I observed the lock of sandy colored hair that danced above one eye as he talked. Occasionally he’d brush it back, but it belligerently worked itself loose as he continued talking. I took another sip of my drink and tried not to stare.
As if he’d picked up on my thoughts, he suddenly cocked his head and studied me a moment. I caught a twinkle in his eye, “Maybe we’ll bump into each other there.”
The thought had already crossed my mind. “Can I ask you a question? Did the Maya have sacrificial rituals like the Aztecs?” I looked interested, like I didn’t already know.
“Did they! They were obsessed with sacrifice. They had some masochistic practices—” He hesitated, glancing at my white linen suit and the hair I’d done in a long, conservative braid. He must have decided what he had to tell me would either shock me, disgust me, or some such thing. “Let me just say they were very religious and serious about their sacrifices,” he continued with that pleased look a man gets when he feels he’s been gallant about shielding a woman from locker-room language too distasteful for her tender ears. Old school—polite and respectful, I liked that. He ordered another round of drinks and extended his hand. It was warm, firm, with calluses from working in the earth. “My name is Nick Richardson.”
“I’m Teresa Harper. Just call me Tessa.”

If my novel and the Maya interest you, I will be sharing more on my Facebook Author Page and here on my blog in future posts. 

Questions? Comments? -- leave them here or on Facebook.


James R. Callan said...

What a great post on Mesoamerica. Not only was it informative, but you presented it in a very interesting fashion. Thanks. And good luck with DANCE THE DREAM AWAKE coming out this week. I really like the title. We spend a lot of time in Mexico. I'll have to get your book. My mystery, OVER MY DEAD BODY, also released this week (Monday). My hope is both our books do well. Thanks for such a good post.

Anonymous said...

Interesting! And I love the excerpt--what a teaser! Many congratulations on its release!

Cora said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Cora said...

Thanks, Jim, for your supportive comments. I do love to visit Mexico, as well, especially the Yucatan. I have to check out your mystery. Good luck.

Marja said...

Not only did I enjoy the post, but your excerpt hooked me. Fascinating information and it sounds like a book I could get into. Thanks for sharing, Cora!
Marja McGraw

Cora said...

Thanks Marja.

Mike Schulenberg said...

Great post and excerpt :) Ancient American cultures are fascinating.