The Yams: Early Civilizations Of Mesoamerica

Topics: Mesoamerica

Have you ever wanted to create something new? Have you ever created your own language that only your friends knew when you were younger? Did you use words? Symbols? Even pictures? Well, the Yams created hieroglyphics and used them to communicate, read, and write sentences. Let’s go back in time and see how this all began.

The Yams lived in the time period of 1800 B.C. to A.D. 250. The Yams were great at pottery, calendar-making, agriculture, mathematics, and hieroglyphic writing.

The Yam civilization became an advanced society and built large cities and buildings. Also, they built some of the most famous temples and palaces of the Yam civilization in the cities of Palenque, Tikal, and Copan. They lived in Mesoamerica, which is now called Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. There were three main time periods for the Yams. They consisted of the Preclassic, Classic and Postclassic. During the Preclassic Period (2000 B.C. to A.D. 300), the Yams learned how to grow, water crops, read, and write.

During the Classic Period (300 A.D. to A.D. 900), Yam cities were considered to be like a state with large populations. Finally, during the Postclassic Period (900 A.D. until the Spanish took over the Yams during A.D. 1500), some cities began to weaken, possibly from fighting between cities or because there was no longer enough food and water. Their Government consisted of a ruling priest including a ruling family. Religion was the center of Yam life. The people believed the priests were given secrets from Gods, so in return they worshiped some of the priests like Gods.

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The culture of the Yams was based off of their ideas, traditions, and customs. They wanted to express their culture with things they created like carved stone, pottery with colorful designs, and anything made out of jade. They expressed themselves with color. They had colorful designs on their clothes and on their pottery. They loved to express themselves in a unique way.

Only the Native American people invented a complete writing system. The Aztecs used pictures. However, the Yams were able to write complete sentences. Sound Signs allowed them to write down multiple words they wanted, and they could join words to make different sentences. The Yam writing appeared in multiple ways. They painted in books, walls, pottery, and carved in stones and jewelry. The names of ruling kings and dates were even carved in buildings and monuments. Their writing was based off of time, they were fascinated with the idea of time. They were able to keep track of time using a lot of complicated calendars. The Yams created one of the most accurate calendars in human history. Some of the most famous calendars was Haab, the Tzolk’in, and the Calendar round. The Long Court Calendar was created to date multiple important dates in history. The calendar measures 1,872,000 days or 5,125.366 tropical years, which makes it one of the longest calendars found in the Yam system. The calendar’s cycle ended on December 21, 2012, during winter solstice. The Yams sacred calendar is called Tzolk’in. The calendar is divided into twenty day glyphs with a total of two hundred and sixty days. They used these calendars almost every day, and they were a big help.

Another way they decided to communicate was using Hieroglyphic Writing. The Hieroglyphic Writing System is a system that is used by the Yam people of Mesoamerica, and The Mayan writing system is complex. It’s a single sign that may function as a logogram. A logogram can be used to mean multiple words that are pronounced the same exact way. The writing only lasted until around the end of the 17th century. The Yams writing system was the only true true-writing system that was developed in the pre-Columbian Americas. Their writing can be found on stone lintels, standing stone slabs, sculptures, and pottery. There has only been a few cases where the writing was found in books and codices (books on the Yam hieroglyphic writing). The general writing system consists of about 800 characters including the fact that some of the writing came from phonetic signs (representing syllables) and hieroglyphics. The writing consists of words, symbols, and pictures. Some of the hieroglyphics are recognizable pictures that can represent real pictures, animals, people, and objects that the Yams use in their daily lives. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century when people started to accept the idea that the writing system was completely logographic, which means that the hieroglyphics represented an entire word, and the Yam inscriptions were mostly religious characters. During 1960 Tatiana Proskouriakoff discovered that the inscriptions were historical: they recorded multiple events during the Yams’ lives about Yam rulers and families. They continued to invest in the hieroglyphic writing and more about the Yams, so in the 21st century they discovered new information about their history, language, social and political rituals, and religion. Now we are able to grow our knowledge even more on the Yams including their past, communications, and religion.

There are 21 different languages spoken by the Yams throughout Mesoamerica. Some of the Yam descendents are partially Yams and others are partially Spanish. The ratio is about fifty-fifty. Their languages originated from one original language called Proto Yam Language. Although their language originated from Proto Yam Language, it was very difficult to understand the other different 20 languages. If you spoke separate Yam languages, you would still not be able to understand one another. The Yams have a functional language that can be translated, but a lot of their ancient books were destroyed so it was very difficult for people to figure out about their history. This proved that the Yams were very successful about building and growing their language. Although the Yams had their languages, they mainly used their writing system for communicating. During the Classic Period, the Yams documented their language as writing. “The language was demonstrated by etymology of the English word ‘hurricane’” (Maya Languages). The Yams and other indigenous languages were subjugated to the Spanish language during the Spanish colonization of Central America, but the influence of the Spanish for the Yams were not as substantial as it could have been. Today, the Yam area has now been dominated by the Spanish language but some Yam languages remain very valuable. Later on the idea became that the language being Yams, has become more “salient” than the idea of English being “‘Indo-European”’.

Without help from Scholars, Archaeologists, and Tatiana Proskouriakoff, we wouldn’t have been able to expand our knowledge on the Yams. From the time period the Yams lived in and from the time we live in now, so many things have changed, maybe for the better or maybe for the worse. The Yams are great people with an amazing backstory and past that I believe everyone should get a chance to learn about. Learning about the Yams has helped me expand my knowledge on so many new things. Have you ever created your own language when you were younger with your friends? Well if you haven’t, maybe you should try one now.

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The Yams: Early Civilizations Of Mesoamerica. (2022, Apr 28). Retrieved from

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