When I visited the Tikal ruins, I expected to receive a history lesson from our guide and to explore the ruins. However, our guide was full of amazing facts and pieces of knowledge about the Mayans and the ruins. Here are the strangest and most interesting things I learnt about the Tikal Ruins while in Flores, Guatemala.
#1 The origin of chewing gum
Tikal is one of the main sources of gum used by Wrigleys to create the products we chew on all around the world. Our guide pulled a Sapodilla fruit off the tree and cracked it open. Inside he showed us the white gum, which was clinging to his finger.
#2 The second loudest animal in the world
Howler Monkeys roam throughout the Tikal ruins and they are the second loudest animal in the world. Second only the the elephant! We watched the monkeys swinging from vine to vine and they were particularly active as it was mating season. We also saw toucans, iguanas and small wild cats throughout the jungle.
#3 How to turn a clap into a bird
The Mayans were far smarter than the average architect. They designed their structures to face the sun with perfect precision. However, the most remarkable design feature of the temples is how they generate certain sounds. We stood facing one of the temples and our guide clapped. However, it wasn’t a normal sound that he created. The shape of the temple transformed the clap into the sound of the national bird, which is the Quetzal. The Quetzal is also the name of the currency. I was blown away when the sound came out felt like I was witnessing some kind of magic trick.
#4 The Mayans only sacrificed the best
The Mayans were extremely religious. So much so they sacrificed not just animals like some civilizations and societies but people. You might expect an average citizen to be the unlucky person to be chosen as the sacrifice or even a criminal or a witch. However, the Mayans had so much respect for the gods they only wanted to sacrifice the best blood. This meant that the royals who had the ‘purest’ blood were often volunteered as the sacrifice. The Mayans also played a ball game to choose who to sacrifice. Once again, I suspected it would be the loser who was the sacrifice sent to the gods. However, the winner was deemed to have the best blood and be the best sacrifice so their reward for winning was to be killed. They believed that as a sacrifice to the gods they would enter a new life as a pure form such as a jaguar or another animal. This is a deep respect and faith in god.
#5 Mayans had a simple number system
A simple numeric system was created by the Mayans, which enabled them to record dates, trade, and other necessary dealings. Our guide showed us some hieroglyphs and explained to us who they could be deciphered now that the number system was understood. A line = 5, a cacao bean = 0 (The first civilization to use a zero) and a circle = 1. They used this system in conjunction with a value chart to record dates, which had now been deciphered on various artifacts throughout the Tikal ruins so that historians could clearly see the date a king was killed for example.
#6 Termites taste like carrots
While we were exploring the Tikal ruins, our guide went all Bear Grylls on us. He found a termite mound on a tree, which was crawling with the little bugs. After he told us they were a great source of protein he picked a few up and ate them. I stepped up to the plate and tried a couple of live termites and true to his word they did, in fact, taste like a raw carrot.
#7 Mayans made it hard for themselves
The Mayans were short people. Even in Guatemala today the majority od the population is quite short. So why did they make the stairs on their temples so big? They were so big that even I, a 6-foot tall guy with long legs, had trouble clambering up them. They built the stairs so large to make the journey to the top of the temple hard on purpose because the top of the temple was sacred and by making the journey up challenging it showed their faith to the god. The Mayans would walk up in a winding route like a serpent.
#8 The temples have stood the test of time
The temples weren’t built any time recently. In fact, many of the structures at Tikal were being built almost 3000 years ago in 900 B.C. That is truly phenomenal. It’s remarkable not only because that is such a long time ago, but because the structures are detailed, incredibly big, accurate and have some unique designs such as the sound features I mentioned earlier.
#9 There is still a huge mystery about the departure of the Mayans
Why did the Mayans leave their extensive city of Tikal suddenly in 900 A.D.? Despite being able to discover many of the Mayan secrets and traditions, this important piece of history still remains a huge mystery. This mystery added to the intrigue as we walked around marveling at how life would’ve been in Tikal all those years ago.
#10 There were 32 kings in Tikal
Throughout history, 32 kings ruled over Tikal. Many of the king’s burial sites have been found and the story about the first king is probably the most interesting as I will mention below
#11 The crocodile king
The tenth king of Tikal was installed to the throne at only 13 years of age and his name was Yax Nuun Ayiin I, which translates to ‘First Crocodile’. He reigned for 47 years and when his body was found by archaeologists, they made an interesting discovery. He was buried next to a crocodile.