The Mysterious Mayan Ruins of Southern Mexico
As I stood beneath the Mayan pyramids of the Yucatan, I felt as if I’d lost all sense of time and space. How could an ancient civilization have such deep knowledge of the universe? Is there any truth to the conspiracy theories that they were galactic travelers, and traded knowledge with extraterrestrials?
Of course, there’s no proof behind these flamboyant claims. However, it’s well-documented that the Maya were advanced scientists and sky-watchers who could precisely track the movement of the stars.
I’ve long been intrigued by this mysterious Mesoamerican civilization, which reached its zenith between 250 and 900 AD. While I was in southern Mexico on a job for my La Carmina blog, I took a day off to visit these archaeological sites for myself.
The most famous ruin is Chichen Itza, located in the Yucatán. My jaw dropped when I saw the 30 meter step pyramid towering over the complex. Named El Castillo, or the Temple of Kukulcan, this stone behemoth looks like something out of a sci-fi fantasy.
The Maya built this great city around the movement of celestial bodies. It’s remarkable that they knew how to accurately calculate lunar cycles, and the paths of Mars and Venus. El Castillo also has 365 steps, mirroring the days in a year. During the spring and fall equinoxes, the angles cast shadows that make it looks as if a serpent was slithering down the pyramid!
Next, I went to explore Ek Balam, a Mayan kingdom located 35 miles northeast of Chichen Itza. There aren’t many tourists at this lesser-known site, so I felt I was alone in a lost world half-hidden by jungle. I ran my hands over carvings that referred to celestial movements, and strolled through an astrological observatory known as the Oval Palace.
This civilization is linked to space travel for other reasons. At Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology, I was startled to see elongated Mayan skulls — which looked eerily like HR Giger’s xenomorphs in the “Alien” movie series!
The truth is not so “out there”: the Maya performed cranial deformation as a body modification. Parents pressed a board to their infant’s skull, creating a long flat shape that was considered a sign of beauty at the time.
The story of King Pakal has also piqued the imagination of cosmic dreamers. Pakal was the 7th century Mayan ruler of Palenque, in the south of Mexico. When his jade-covered funerary mask was excavated, some thought he looked a little green Martian man!
The king’s sarcophagus also has carvings of the sun, moon and stars – and show him seated on a structure. Some think that this is an image of him on a spaceship, wearing a breathing apparatus and holding controls with his hands. (Historians, however, consider this to be a fanciful interpretation of classic Mayan art.)
Traveling to Mexico’s Mayan ruins fed my fascination for unsolved mysteries. I loved seeing the stone pyramids first-hand, and learning about the accomplishments of these early astronomers. Much like us today, the Maya were stargazers – and pushed the boundaries of science to better understand themselves and the universe they lived in.