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date: 09 May 2021

Maya musiclocked

  • Robert Stevenson
  •  and Arturo Chamorro


The term ‘Maya’ applies in a broad sense to a large group (about two million in the 1960s) of Amerindians speaking Maya languages; in this context it refers principally to the music of the pre-Columbian civilization.

The pre-Columbian Mayas inhabited the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, as well as the Guatemalan highlands, present-day Belize and the eastern parts of the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco. Maya culture reached its peak in such ceremonial centres as Copán, Tikal and Uxmal as early as 300–900 ce, during which centuries the Mayas developed systems for astronomy, mathematics and writing matched by no other pre-Columbian peoples. By 1517–18, however, when Spanish explorers first began skirting the coasts of the lowland Yucatán peninsula, they had long since fallen victim to conquering invaders from central Mexico.

Jaina island has yielded decorated clay flutes that reveal a flourishing music culture from about 500: ce vertical flutes with six unequally spaced finger-holes (...

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