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A Juxtaposition of the Mayan and Sumerian Civilizations

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A Juxtaposition of the Mayan and Sumerian Civilizations essay
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Throughout history, many civilizations have come and gone. Most of these lost and forgotten civilizations were very similar in many ways, while still having their differences. In this essay, the Sumerian and Mayan civilizations will be compared and contrasted by their writing, social classes, and religion. The thesis is that the two civilizations are very different despite similarities.

First off is the language or writing that the Sumerians and the Mayans used to communicate within their peers. The Sumerians used a writing system called cuneiform. This system depended on pictures to convey abstract ideas, but was also useful in ways such as keeping records. In about 2900 B.C.E. the Sumerians developed a flexible writing system that combined graphic symbols to represent sounds and syllables. The Mayans, on the other hand, built off of the Olmecs writing techniques. The Mayans writing included ideographic elements (like Chinese characters) and symbols for syllables. Scholars had begun to decipher the script in the 1960s and found that the Maya scribes wrote works of poetry, history, and myth. They also kept genealogical, administrative, and astronomical records. There are a few differences in the two techniques. First, the Sumerian cuneiform was formed by the Sumerians, whereas the Mayans adopted their writing from the Olmecs. Second, the cuneiform used graphic symbols where the Mayans used symbols and ideographic elements.

Next is the social classes of the two great world civilizations. Starting with a similarity between the two; both civilizations were run by kings, priests, and ruling families. However, in early Mesopotamia, the kings and nobles were chosen by their valor and success as warriors. In the Mayan civilization, the nobility was hereditary and they cooperated with kings and priests by organizing military forces and participating in religious rituals. Similarities of the two social classes is that both civilizations had slaves or peasants who were heavily in debt. The difference in the slaves of the Mayan and Sumerian civilizations is that the Sumerian slaves worked as agricultural laborers and the Mayan slaves provided physical labor for the construction of cities and monuments.

Last is the religion of the two. The Mayans’ writing shed light on religious and cultural traditions. For example, the PopolVuh, a Maya creation myth, taught that the gods had created humans out of maize and water, which then became human flesh and blood. Thus, Mayan religion reflected the fundamental role of agriculture in their society. The early kings of the Sumerian cities made such a deep impression on their contemporaries that legends portrayed them as offspring of gods. For example, Gilgamesh of Uruk was considered two-thirds divine and one-third human because he was thought of the son of a goddess and a king.

In conclusion, the Sumerian and Mayan civilizations had multiple similarities and differences, but overall they are very different societies. The writing styles, social classes, and religion were similar in some ways, but the differences were greater between the two civilizations.

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