Maya civilization - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia...From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written - [PDF Document] (2024)

  • Maya civilization

    Maya civilization

    Peoples · Languages · SocietyReligion · Mythology ·

    Human sacrificeArchitecture · Calendar

    Textiles · TradePre-Columbian Music · Writing

    HistoryClassic Maya collapse

    Spanish conquest of Yucatán

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the onlyknown fully developed written language ofthe pre-ColumbianAmericas, as well as its art, architecture, and mathematical andastronomical systems.Initially established during the Preclassicperiod (c. 2000 BC to 250 AD), many Maya cities reachedtheirhighest state development during the Classic period (c. 250 ADto 900 AD), and continued throughout thePostclassic period untilthe arrival of the Spanish. At its peak, it was one of the mostdensely populated andculturally dynamic societies in the world.[1]

    The Maya civilization shares many features with otherMesoamerican civilizations due to the high degreeof interaction andcultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such aswriting, epigraphy, andthe calendar did not originate with theMaya; however, their civilization fully developed them.Mayainfluence can be detected from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvadorand to as far as central Mexico, morethan 1000 km (625 miles) fromthe Maya area. Many outside influences are found in Maya artandarchitecture, which are thought to result from trade andcultural exchange rather than direct externalconquest. The Mayapeoples never disappeared, neither at the time of the Classicperiod decline nor withthe arrival of the Spanish conquistadoresand the subsequent Spanish colonization of the Americas. Today,theMaya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout theMaya area and maintain adistinctive set of traditions and beliefsthat are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian andpost-Conquestideas and cultures. Many Mayan languages continue to be spoken asprimary languagestoday; the Rabinal Achí, a play written in theAchi' language, was declared a Masterpiece of the OralandIntangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.

    Geographical extent

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  • Extent of the Maya civilization

    The geographic extent of the Maya civilization, known as theMaya area, extendedthroughout the southern Mexican states ofChiapas, Tabasco, and the YucatánPeninsula states of Quintana Roo,Campeche and Yucatán. The Maya area alsoextended throughout thenorthern Central American region, including thepresent-day nationsof Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and western Honduras.

    As the largest sub-region in Mesoamerica, it encompassed a vastand variedlandscape, from the mountainous regions of the SierraMadre to the semi-arid plainsof northern Yucatán. Climate in theMaya region can vary tremendously, as thelow-lying areas areparticularly susceptible to the hurricanes and tropical stormsthatfrequent the Caribbean.

    The Maya area is generally divided into three loosely definedzones: the southernMaya highlands, the southern (or central) Mayalowlands, and the northern Mayalowlands. The southern Mayahighlands include all of elevated terrain in Guatemalaand theChiapas highlands. The southern lowlands lie just north of thehighlands,and incorporate the Mexican states of Campeche andQuintana Roo and northernGuatemala, Belize and El Salvador. Thenorthern lowlands cover the remainder of the Yucatán Peninsula,including the Puuc hills.[2]



    The Maya area was initially inhabited around the 10th centuryBC. Recent discoveries of Maya occupation at Cuello in Belize havebeen carbondated to around 2600 BC.[3][4] This level of occupationincluded monumental structures. The Maya calendar, which is basedaround theso-called Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, commences ona date equivalent to 11 August, 3114 BC. However, according to"acceptedhistory" the first clearly “Maya” settlements wereestablished in approximately 1800 BC in Soconusco region of thePacific Coast. This period,known as the Early Preclassic,[5] wascharacterized by sedentary communities and the introduction ofpottery and fired clay figurines.[6]

    Important sites in the southern Maya lowlands include Nakbe, ElMirador, Cival, and San Bartolo. In the Guatemalan HighlandsKaminal Juyúemerges around 800 BC. For many centuries it controlledthe Jade and Obsidian sources for the Petén and Pacific Lowlands.The important earlysites of Izapa, Takalik Abaj and Chocolá ataround 600 BC were the main producers of Cacao. Mid-sized Mayacommunities also began todevelop in the northern Maya lowlandsduring the Middle and Late Preclassic, though these lacked thesize, scale, and influence of the largecenters of the southernlowlands. Two important Preclassic northern sites include Komchenand Dzibilchaltun. The first written inscription inMayahieroglyphics also dates to this period (c. 250 BC).[7]

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  • The ruins of Palenque.

    There is disagreement about the boundaries which differentiatethe physical and cultural extent of the early Maya and neighboringPreclassicMesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmec culture ofthe Tabasco lowlands and the Mixe-Zoque– and Zapotec–speakingpeoples of Chiapasand southern Oaxaca, respectively. Many of theearliest significant inscriptions and buildings appeared in thisoverlapping zone, and evidencesuggests that these cultures and theformative Maya influenced one another.[8] Takalik Abaj, in thePacific slopes of Guatemala, is the only sitewhere Olmec and thenMaya features have been found.


    The Classic period (c. 250–900 AD) witnessed the peak oflarge-scale constructionand urbanism, the recording of monumentalinscriptions, and a period of significantintellectual and artisticdevelopment, particularly in the southern lowland regions.[9]Theydeveloped an agriculturally intensive, city-centered empireconsisting ofnumerous independent city-states. This includes thewell-known cities of Tikal,Palenque, Copán and Calakmul, but alsothe lesser known Dos Pilas, Uaxactun,Altun Ha, and Bonampak, amongothers. The Early Classic settlement distribution inthe northernMaya lowlands is not as clearly known as the southern zone, butdoesinclude a number of population centers, such as Oxkintok,Chunchucmil, and theearly occupation of Uxmal.

    The most notable monuments are the stepped pyramids they builtin their religiouscenters and the accompanying palaces of theirrulers. The palace at Cancuen is thelargest in the Maya area,though the site, interestingly, lacks pyramids. Otherimportantarchaeological remains include the carved stone slabs usuallycalled stelae(the Maya called them tetun, or "tree-stones"), whichdepict rulers along withhieroglyphic texts describing theirgenealogy, military victories, and otheraccomplishments.[10]

    The Maya civilization participated in long distance trade withmany of the other Mesoamerican cultures, including Teotihuacan, theZapotec andother groups in central and gulf-coast Mexico, as wellas with more distant, non-Mesoamerican groups, for example theTainos in the Caribbean.Archeologists have also found gold fromPanama in the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza.[11] Important tradegoods included cacao, salt, seashells, jade and obsidian.

    The Maya collapse

    Main article: Maya collapse

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  • For reasons that are still debated, the Maya centers of thesouthern lowlands went into decline during the 8th and 9thcenturies and wereabandoned shortly thereafter. This decline wascoupled with a cessation of monumental inscriptions and large-scalearchitecturalconstruction.[12] Although there is no universallyaccepted theory to explain this “collapse,” current theories fallinto two categories:non-ecological and ecological.

    Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into severalsubcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasantrevolt, and thecollapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypothesesinclude environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climatechange. There is evidence thatthe Maya population exceeded carryingcapacity of the environment including exhaustion of agriculturalpotential and overhunting ofmegafauna.[13] Some scholars haverecently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to thecollapse of Maya civilization.[14] The droughttheory originatedfrom research performed by physical scientists studying lakebeds,[15] ancient pollen, and other data, not fromthearchaeological community.

    Postclassic period

    During the succeeding Postclassic period (from the 10th to theearly 16th century), development in the northern centers persisted,characterizedby an increasing diversity of external influences. TheMaya cities of the northern lowlands in Yucatán continued toflourish for centuries more;some of the important sites in this erawere Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Edzná, and Coba. After the decline of theruling dynasties of Chichen andUxmal, Mayapan ruled all of Yucatánuntil a revolt in 1450. (This city's name may be the source of theword "Maya", which had a moregeographically restricted meaning inYucatec and colonial Spanish and only grew to its current meaningin the 19th and 20th centuries). Thearea then degenerated intocompeting city-states until the Yucatán was conquered by theSpanish.

    The Itza Maya, Ko'woj, and Yalain groups of Central Petensurvived the "Classic Period Collapse" in small numbers and by 1250reconstitutedthemselves to form competing city-states. The Itzamaintained their capital at Tayasal (also known as Noh Petén), anarchaeological site thoughtto underlay the modern city of Flores,Guatemala on Lake Petén Itzá. It ruled over an area extendingacross the Peten Lakes region,encompassing the community of Eckixil( on Lake Quexil. TheKo'woj had their capital atZacpeten. Postclassic Maya states alsocontinued to survive in the southern highlands. One of the Mayanations in this area, the K'iche' Kingdomof Q'umarkaj, isresponsible for the best-known Maya work of historiography andmythology, the Popol Vuh. Other highland kingdoms includedthe Mambased at Huehuetenango, the Kaqchikels based at Iximché, theChajomá based at Mixco Viejo[16] and the Chuj, based at SanMateoIxtatán.

    Colonial period

    Main article: Spanish conquest of Yucatán

    See also: Spanish conquest of Mexico and Spanish colonization ofthe Americas

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  • Shortly after their first expeditions to the region, the Spanishinitiated a number of attempts to subjugate the Maya and establisha colonialpresence in the Maya territories of the Yucatán Peninsulaand the Guatemalan highlands. This campaign, sometimes termed "TheSpanishConquest of Yucatán," would prove to be a lengthy anddangerous exercise for the conquistadores from the outset, and itwould take some 170years before the Spanish established substantivecontrol over all Maya lands.

    Unlike the Aztec and Inca Empires, there was no single Mayapolitical center that, once overthrown, would hasten the end ofcollectiveresistance from the indigenous peoples. Instead, theconquistador forces needed to subdue the numerous independent Mayapolities almost oneby one, many of which kept up a fierceresistance. Most of the conquistadores were motivated by theprospects of the great wealth to be hadfrom the seizure of preciousmetal resources such as gold or silver; however, the Maya landsthemselves were poor in these resources. Thiswould become anotherfactor in forestalling Spanish designs of conquest, as they insteadwere initially attracted to the reports of great riches incentralMexico or Peru.

    The Spanish Church and government officials destroyed Maya textsand with them the knowledge of Maya writing, but by chance three ofthepre-Columbian books dated to the post classic period have beenpreserved.[17] The last Maya states, the Itza polity of Tayasal andthe Ko'wojcity of Zacpeten, were continuously occupied and remainedindependent of the Spanish until late in the 17th century. Theywere finally subduedby the Spanish in 1697.

    Political structuresA typical Classic Maya polity was a smallhierarchical state (ajawil, ajawlel, or ajawlil) headed by ahereditary ruler known as an ajaw (laterk’uhul ajaw).[18] Suchkingdoms were usually no more than a capital city with itsneighborhood and several lesser towns, although there weregreaterkingdoms, which controlled larger territories and extendedpatronage over smaller polities. Each kingdom had a name that didnotnecessarily correspond to any locality within its territory. Itsidentity was that of a political unit associated with a particularruling dynasty. Forinstance, the archaeological site of Naranjo wasthe capital of the kingdom of Saal. The land (chan ch’e’n) of thekingdom and its capital werecalled Wakab’nal or Maxam and were partof a larger geographical entity known as Huk Tsuk. Interestingly,despite constant warfare andeventual shifts in regional power, mostkingdoms never disappeared from the political landscape until thecollapse of the whole system in the 9thcentury AD. In this respect,Classic Maya kingdoms are highly similar to late Post Classicpolities encountered by the Spaniards in Yucatán andCentral Mexico:some polities could be subordinated to hegemonic rulers throughconquests or dynastic unions and yet even then they persistedasdistinct entities.

    Mayanists have been increasingly accepting a "court paradigm" ofClassic Maya societies which puts the emphasis on the centrality ofthe royalhousehold and especially the person of the king. Thisapproach focuses on Maya monumental spaces as the embodiment of thediverse activitiesof the royal household. It considers the role ofplaces and spaces (including dwellings of royalty and nobles,throne rooms, temples, halls andplazas for public ceremonies) inestablishing power and social hierarchy, and also in projectingaesthetic and moral values to define the widersocial realm.

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  • Spanish sources invariably describe even the largest Mayasettlements as dispersed collections of dwellings grouped aroundthe temples andpalaces of the ruling dynasty and lesser nobles.None of the Classic Maya cities shows evidence of economicspecialization and commerce ofthe scale of Mexican Tenochtitlan.Instead, Maya cities could be seen as enormous royal households,the locales of the administrative and ritualactivities of the royalcourt. They were the places where privileged nobles could approachthe holy ruler, where aesthetic values of the highculture wereformulated and disseminated, where aesthetic items were consumed.They were the self-proclaimed centers and the sources ofsocial,moral, and cosmic order. The fall of a royal court as in thewell-documented cases of Piedras Negras or Copan would cause theinevitable"death" of the associated settlement.

    ArtMain article: Maya art

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  • A stucco relief from Palenquedepicting Upakal K'inich

    Many consider Maya art of their Classic Era (c. 250 to 900 AD)to be the most sophisticated and beautifulof the ancient New World.The carvings and the reliefs made of stucco at Palenque and thestatuary ofCopán are especially fine, showing a grace and accurateobservation of the human form that reminded earlyarchaeologists ofClassical civilizations of the Old World, hence the name bestowedon this era. We haveonly hints of the advanced painting of theclassic Maya; mostly what have survived are funerary potteryandother Maya ceramics, and a building at Bonampak holds ancientmurals that survived by chance. A beautifulturquoise blue colorthat has survived through the centuries due to its unique chemicalcharacteristics isknown as Maya Blue or Azul maya, and it ispresent in Bonampak, Tajín Cacaxtla, Jaina, and even insomeColonial Convents. The use of Maya Blue survived until the 16thcentury when the technique was lost.Some Pre Classic murals havebeen recently discovered at San Bartolo, and are by far the finestin style andiconography, regarded as the Sistine Chapel of theMaya. With the decipherment of the Maya script it wasdiscoveredthat the Maya were one of the few civilizations where artistsattached their name to their work.

    ArchitectureMain article: Maya architecture

    Maya architecture spans many thousands of years; yet, often themost dramatic and easily recognizable asMaya are the steppedpyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond. There arealso cave sitesthat are important to the Maya. These cave sitesinclude Jolja Cave, the cave site at Naj Tunich, theCandelariaCaves, and the Cave of the Witch. There are also cave-origin mythsamong the Maya. Somecave sites are still used by the modern Maya inthe Chiapas highlands.

    It has been suggested that temples and pyramids were remodeledand rebuilt every fifty-two years insynchrony with the Maya LongCount Calendar. It appears now that the rebuilding process wasofteninstigated by a new ruler or for political matters, as opposedto matching the calendar cycle. However, the process of rebuildingon top of oldstructures is indeed a common one. Most notably, theNorth Acropolis at Tikal seems to be the sum total of 1,500 yearsof architecturalmodifications. In Tikal and Yaxhá, there are theTwin Pyramid complexes (seven in Tikal and one in Yaxhá, thatcommemorate the end of aBaktún). Through observation of thenumerous consistent elements and stylistic distinctions, remnantsof Maya architecture have become animportant key to understandingthe evolution of their ancient civilization.

    Urban design

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  • North Acropolis, Tikal,Guatemala

    Ballcourt at Tikal, Guatemala

    As Maya cities spread throughout the varied geography ofMesoamerica, site planning appears to have beenminimal. Mayaarchitecture tended to integrate a great degree of naturalfeatures, and their cities were builtsomewhat haphazardly asdictated by the topography of each independent location. Forinstance, some cities onthe flat limestone plains of the northernYucatán grew into great sprawling municipalities, while othersbuilt inthe hills of Usumacinta utilized the natural loft of thetopography to raise their towers and temples toimpressive heights.However, some semblance of order, as required in any large city,still prevailed.

    Classic Era Maya urban design could easily be described as thedivision of space by great monuments andcauseways. Open publicplazas were the gathering places for people and the focus of urbandesign, whileinterior space was entirely secondary. Only in theLate Post-Classic era did the great Maya cities develop intomorefortress-like defensive structures that lacked, for the most part,the large and numerous plazas of the


    At the onset of large-scale construction during the Classic Era,a predetermined axis was typically established in a cardinaldirection. Dependingon the location of natural resources such asfresh-water wells, or cenotes, the city grew by using sacbeob(causeways) to connect great plazaswith the numerous platforms thatcreated the sub-structure for nearly all Maya buildings. As morestructures were added and existing structuresre-built or remodeled,the great Maya cities seemed to take on an almost random identitythat contrasted sharply with other great Mesoamericancities such asTeotihuacan and its rigid grid-like construction.

    At the heart of the Maya city were large plazas surrounded bythe most important governmental and religiousbuildings, such as theroyal acropolis, great pyramid temples and occasionallyball-courts. Though city layoutsevolved as nature dictated, carefulattention was placed on the directional orientation of templesandobservatories so that they were constructed in accordance withMaya interpretation of the orbits of theheavenly bodies.Immediately outside of this ritual center were the structures oflesser nobles, smaller temples,and individual shrines; the lesssacred and less important structures had a greater degree ofprivacy. Outside ofthe constantly evolving urban core were the lesspermanent and more modest homes of the common people.

    Building materials

    A surprising aspect of the great Maya structures is their lackof many advanced technologies seemingly necessary for suchconstructions.Lacking draft animals necessary for wheel-based modesof transportation, metal tools and even pulleys, Maya architecturerequired abundantmanpower. Yet, beyond this enormous requirement,the remaining materials seem to have been readily available. Allstone for Maya structuresappears to have been taken from localquarries. They most often used limestone which remained pliableenough to be worked with stone toolswhile being quarried and onlyhardened once removed from its bed. In addition to the structuraluse of limestone, much of their mortar consistedof crushed, burntand mixed limestone that mimicked the properties of cement and wasused as widely for stucco finishing as it was for mortar.Laterimprovements in quarrying techniques reduced the necessity for thislimestone-stucco as the stones began to fit quite perfectly, yetit

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  • remained a crucial element in some post and lintel roofs. In thecase of the common Maya houses, wooden poles, adobe and thatch weretheprimary materials; however, instances of what appear to becommon houses of limestone have been discovered as well. Alsonotable throughoutMaya architecture is the corbel arch (also knownas a "false arch"), which allowed for more open-aired entrances.The corbelled arch improvedupon pier/post and lintel doorways bydirecting the weight off of the lintel and onto the supportingposts.

    Notable constructions

    Ceremonial platforms were commonly limestone platforms oftypically less than four meters in height where public ceremoniesandreligious rites were performed. Constructed in the fashion of atypical foundation platform, these were often accented by carvedfigures,altars and perhaps tzompantli, a stake used to display theheads of victims or defeated Mesoamerican ballgameopponents.Palaces were large and often highly decorated, andusually sat close to the center of a city and housed thepopulation's elite. Anyexceedingly large royal palace, or oneconsisting of many chambers on different levels might be referredto as an acropolis. However,often these were one-story andconsisted of many small chambers and typically at least oneinterior courtyard; these structures appear totake into account theneeded functionality required of a residence, as well as thedecoration required for their inhabitants stature.E-Groups arespecific structural configurations present at a number of centersin the Maya area. These complexes are oriented and alignedaccordingto specific astronomical events (primarily the sun’s solstices andequinoxes) and are thought to have been observatories.Thesestructures are usually accompanied by iconographic reliefsthat tie astronomical observation into general Maya mythology. Thestructuralcomplex is named for Group E at Uaxactun, the firstdocumented in Mesoamerica.

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  • Temple of the Cross at Palenque;note the intricate roof comband

    corbeled arch

    Pyramids and temples. Often the most important religious templessat atop the towering Mayapyramids, presumably as the closest placeto the heavens. While recent discoveries point toward theextensiveuse of pyramids as tombs, the temples themselves seem to rarely, ifever, contain burials.Residing atop the pyramids, some of overtwo-hundred feet, such as that at El Mirador, the templeswereimpressive and decorated structures themselves. Commonly toppedwith a roof comb, orsuperficial grandiose wall, these temples mighthave served as a type of propaganda. As they wereoften the onlystructure in a Maya city to exceed the height of the surroundingjungle, the roofcombs atop the temples were often carved withrepresentations of rulers that could be seen fromvastdistances.Observatories. The Maya were keen astronomers and hadmapped out the phases of celestialobjects, especially the Moon andVenus. Many temples have doorways and other features aligningtocelestial events. Round temples, often dedicated to Kukulcan, areperhaps those most oftendescribed as "observatories" by modern ruintour-guides, but there is no evidence that they were sousedexclusively, and temple pyramids of other shapes may well have beenused for observation aswell.Ball courts. As an integral aspect ofthe Mesoamerican lifestyle, the courts for their ritualball-gamewere constructed throughout the Maya realm and often on agrand scale. Enclosed on two sides bystepped ramps that led toceremonial platforms or small temples, the ball court itself was ofa capital"I" shape and could be found in all but the smallest ofMaya cities.

    Writing and literacy

    Writing system

    Main article: Maya script

    The Maya writing system (often called hieroglyphs from asuperficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing) was acombination ofphonetic symbols and logograms. It is most oftenclassified as a logographic or (more properly) a logosyllabicwriting system, in which syllabicsigns play a significant role. Itis the only writing system of the Pre-Columbian New World which isknown to completely represent the spokenlanguage of its community.In total, the script has more than a thousand different glyphs,although a few are variations of the same sign ormeaning, and manyappear only rarely or are confined to particular localities. At anyone time, no more than around 500 glyphs were in use,some 200 ofwhich (including variations) had a phonetic or syllabicinterpretation.

    The earliest inscriptions in an identifiably-Maya script dateback to 200–300 BC.[19] However, this is preceded by several otherwriting systemswhich had developed in Mesoamerica, most notablythat of the Zapotecs, and (following the 2006 publication ofresearch on the recently-

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  • discovered Cascajal Block), the Olmecs.[20] There is a pre-Mayawriting known as "Epi-Olmec script" (post Olmec) which someresearchersbelieve may represent a transitional script betweenOlmec and Maya writing, but the relationships between these remainunclear and the matteris unsettled. On January 5, 2006, NationalGeographic published the findings of Maya writings that could be asold as 400 BC, suggesting thatthe Maya writing system is nearly asold as the oldest Mesoamerican writing known at that time,Zapotec.[21] In the succeeding centuries theMaya developed theirscript into a form which was far more complete and complex than anyother that has yet been found in the Americas.

    Since its inception, the Maya script was in use up to thearrival of the Europeans, peaking during the Maya Classical Period(c. 200 to 900).Although many Maya centers went into decline (orwere completely abandoned) during or after this period, the skilland knowledge of Mayawriting persisted amongst segments of thepopulation, and the early Spanish conquistadors knew of individualswho could still read and writethe script. Unfortunately, theSpanish displayed little interest in it, and as a result of thedire impacts the conquest had on Maya societies, theknowledge wassubsequently lost, probably within only a few generations.

    At a rough estimate, in excess of 10,000 individual texts haveso far been recovered, mostly inscribed on stone monuments,lintels, stelae andceramic pottery. The Maya also produced textspainted on a form of paper manufactured from processed tree-bark,in particular from severalspecies of strangler fig trees such asFicus cotinifolia and Ficus padifolia.[22] This paper, commonthroughout Mesoamerica and generally nowknown by itsNahuatl-language name amatl, was typically bound as a singlecontinuous sheet that was folded into pages of equalwidth,concertina-style, to produce a codex that could be written onboth sides. Shortly after the conquest, all of the codices whichcould be found wereordered to be burnt and destroyed by zealousSpanish priests, notably Bishop Diego de Landa. Only threereasonably intact examples of Mayacodices are known to havesurvived through to the present day. These are now known as theMadrid, Dresden, and Paris codices. A few pagessurvive from afourth, the Grolier codex, whose authenticity is sometimesdisputed, but mostly is held to be genuine. Furtherarchaeologyconducted at Maya sites often reveals other fragments,rectangular lumps of plaster and paint chips which formerly werecodices; thesetantalizing remains are, however, too severelydamaged for any inscriptions to have survived, most of the organicmaterial having decayed.

    The decipherment and recovery of the now-lost knowledge of Mayawriting has been a long and laborious process. Some elements werefirstdeciphered in the late 19th and early 20th century, mostly theparts having to do with numbers, the Maya calendar, and astronomy.Majorbreakthroughs came starting in the 1950s to 1970s, andaccelerated rapidly thereafter. By the end of the 20th century,scholars were able to readthe majority of Maya texts to a largeextent, and recent field work continues to further illuminate thecontent.

    In reference to the few extant Maya writings, Michael D. Coe, aprominent linguist and epigrapher at Yale University, stated:

    "[O]ur knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only atiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of booksin whichthe full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded,only four have survived to modern times (as though all thatposterity knew ofourselves were to be based upon three prayer booksand 'Pilgrim's Progress')." (Michael D. Coe, The Maya, London:Thames andHudson, 4th ed., 1987, p. 161.)

    Most surviving pre-Columbian Maya writing is from stelae andother stone inscriptions from Maya sites, many of which werealready

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  • Maya numerals

    abandoned before the Spanish arrived. The inscriptions on thestelae mainly record the dynasties and wars of the sites' rulers.Also of note arethe inscriptions that reveal information about thelives of ancient Maya women. Much of the remainder of Mayahieroglyphics has been foundon funeral pottery, most of whichdescribes the afterlife.

    Writing tools

    Although the archaeological record does not provide examples,Maya art shows that writing was done with brushes made with animalhair andquills. Codex-style writing was usually done in black inkwith red highlights, giving rise to the Aztec name for the Mayaterritory as the "land ofred and black".

    Scribes and literacy

    Scribes held a prominent position in Maya courts. Maya art oftendepicts rulers with trappings indicating they were scribes or atleast able towrite, such as having pen bundles in theirheaddresses. Additionally, many rulers have been found inconjunction with writing tools such as shellor clay inkpots.Although the number of logograms and syllabic symbols required tofully write the language numbered in the hundreds, literacywas notnecessarily widespread beyond the elite classes. Graffiti uncoveredin various contexts, including on fired bricks, showsnonsensicalattempts to imitate the writing system.

    MathematicsIn common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations,the Maya used a base 20 (vigesimal) and base 5numbering system (seeMaya numerals). Also, the preclassic Maya and their neighborsindependentlydeveloped the concept of zero by 36 BC. Inscriptionsshow them on occasion working with sums up to thehundreds ofmillions and dates so large it would take several lines just torepresent it. They produced extremelyaccurate astronomicalobservations; their charts of the movements of the moon and planetsare equal orsuperior to those of any other civilization workingfrom naked eye observation.

    In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Mayahad measured the length of the solar year to ahigh degree ofaccuracy, far more accurately than that used in Europe as the basisof the Gregorian Calendar.They did not use this figure for thelength of year in their calendars, however; the calendars they usedwerecrude, being based on a year length of exactly 365 days, whichmeans that the calendar falls out of step withthe seasons by oneday every four years. By comparison, the Julian calendar, used inEurope from Romantimes until about the 16th Century, accumulated anerror of only one day every 128 years. The modernGregorian calendaris even more accurate, accumulating only a day's error inapproximately 3257 years.

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  • God K, the god of lightning

    AstronomyUniquely, there is some evidence to suggest the Mayaappear to be the only pre-telescopic civilization to demonstrateknowledge of the OrionNebula as being fuzzy, i.e. not a stellarpin-point. The information which supports this theory comes from afolk tale that deals with the Orionconstellation's area of the sky.Their traditional hearths include in their middle a smudge ofglowing fire that corresponds with the Orion Nebula.This is asignificant clue to support the idea that the Maya detected adiffuse area of the sky contrary to the pin points of stars beforethetelescope was invented.[23] Many preclassic sites are orientedwith the Pleiades and Eta Draconis, as seen in La Blanca, Ujuxte,Monte Alto, andTakalik Abaj.

    The Maya were very interested in zenial passages, the time whenthe sun passes directly overhead. The latitude of most of theircities beingbelow the Tropic of Cancer, these zenial passages wouldoccur twice a year equidistant from the solstice. To represent thisposition of the sunoverhead, the Maya had a god named DivingGod.

    The Dresden Codex contains the highest concentration ofastronomical phenomena observations and calculations of any of thesurviving texts (itappears that the data in this codex is primarilyor exclusively of an astronomical nature). Examination and analysisof this codex reveals thatVenus was the most important astronomicalobject to the Maya, even more important to them than the sun.

    ReligionMain article: Maya religion

    Like the Aztec and Inca who came to power later, the Mayabelieved in a cyclical nature of time. The rituals andceremonieswere very closely associated with celestial and terrestrial cycleswhich they observed and inscribedas separate calendars. The Mayapriest had the job of interpreting these cycles and giving aprophetic outlook onthe future or past based on the numberrelations of all their calendars. They also had to determine ifthe"heavens" or celestial matters were appropriate for performingcertain religious ceremonies.

    The Maya practiced human sacrifice. In some Maya rituals peoplewere killed by having their arms and legs heldwhile a priest cutthe person's chest open and tore out his heart as an offering. Thisis depicted on ancient objectssuch as pictorial texts, known ascodices. It is believed that children were often offered assacrificial victimsbecause they were believed to be pure.

    Much of the Maya religious tradition is still not understood byscholars, but it is known that the Maya, like mostpre-modernsocieties, believed that the cosmos has three major planes, theunderworld, the sky, and the Earth.

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  • The Maya underworld is reached through caves and ball courts. Itwas thought to be dominated by the aged Maya gods of deathandputrefaction. The Sun (Kinich Ahau) and Itzamna, an aged god,dominated the Maya idea of the sky. Another aged man, god L, wasone of themajor deities of the underworld.

    The night sky was considered a window showing all supernaturaldoings. The Maya configured constellations of gods and places, sawtheunfolding of narratives in their seasonal movements, andbelieved that the intersection of all possible worlds was in thenight sky.

    Maya gods were not separate entities like Greek gods. The godshad affinities and aspects that caused them to merge with oneanother in waysthat seem unbounded. There is a massive array ofsupernatural characters in the Maya religious tradition, only someof which recur withregularity. Good and evil traits are notpermanent characteristics of Maya gods, nor is only "good"admirable. What is inappropriate during oneseason might come topass in another since much of the Maya religious tradition is basedon cycles and not permanence.

    The life-cycle of maize lies at the heart of Maya belief. Thisphilosophy is demonstrated on the belief in the Maya maize god as acentralreligious figure. The Maya bodily ideal is also based on theform of this young deity, which is demonstrated in their artwork.The Maize Godwas also a model of courtly life for the ClassicalMaya.

    It is sometimes believed that the multiple "gods" representednothing more than a mathematical explanation of what they observed.Each godwas literally just a number or an explanation of theeffects observed by a combination of numbers from multiplecalendars. Among the manytypes of Maya calendars which weremaintained, the most important included a 260-day cycle, a 365-daycycle which approximated the solaryear, a cycle which recordedlunation periods of the Moon, and a cycle which tracked the synodicperiod of Venus.

    Philosophically, the Maya believed that knowing the past meantknowing the cyclical influences that create the present, and byknowing theinfluences of the present one can see the cyclicalinfluences of the future.

    Even in the 19th century, there was Maya influence in the localbranch of Christianity followed in Chan Santa Cruz. Among theK'iche' in thewestern highlands of Guatemala these same nine monthsare replicated, until this very day, in the training of the ajk'ij,the keeper of the 260-day-calendar called ch'olk'ij.

    AgricultureMain article: Maya diet and subsistence

    See also: Agriculture in Mesoamerica

    The ancient Maya had diverse and sophisticated methods of foodproduction. It was formerly believed that shifting cultivation(swidden)agriculture provided most of their food but it is nowthought that permanent raised fields, terracing, forest gardens,managed fallows, and wildharvesting were also crucial to supportingthe large populations of the Classic period in some areas. Indeed,evidence of these different

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  • agricultural systems persist today: raised fields connected bycanals can be seen on aerial photographs, contemporary rainforestspeciescomposition has significantly higher abundance of species ofeconomic value to ancient Maya, and pollen records in lakesediments suggest thatcorn, manioc, sunflower seeds, cotton, andother crops have been cultivated in association with thedeforestation in Mesoamerica since at least2500 BC.

    Contemporary Maya peoples still practice many of thesetraditional forms of agriculture, although they are dynamic systemsand change withchanging population pressures, cultures, economicsystems, climate change, and the availability of syntheticfertilizers and pesticides.

    Rediscovery of the Pre-Columbian Maya

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  • False-color IKONOS image ofa bajo (lowland area) inGuatemala.The forest

    covering sites of Maya ruinsappears yellowish, as opposedto thered color of surrounding

    forest. The more sparselyvegetated bajos appear


    A Middle Preclassic palace structure atNakbé, the MiradorBasin.

    Spanish clergy and administrators dating to the 16th centurywere largely familiar with ancient Maya sites,writing and calendarsystems. Published writings of 16th century Bishop Diego de Landaand writings of 18thcentury Spanish officials spurred seriousinvestigations of Maya sites by the late 18th century.[24] In1839United States traveler and writer John Lloyd Stephens, familiarwith earlier Spanish investigations, visitedCopán, Palenque, andother sites with English architect and draftsman FrederickCatherwood. Their illustratedaccounts of the ruins sparked strongpopular interest in the region and the people, and they have onceagainregained their position as a vital link in Mesoamericanheritage.

    However, in many locations, Maya ruins have been overgrown bythe jungle, becoming dense enough to hidestructures just a fewmeters away. To help find ruins, researchers have turned tosatellite imagery. The best wayto find them is to look at thevisible and near-infrared spectra. Due to their limestoneconstruction, themonuments affected the chemical makeup of the soilas they deteriorated. Some moisture-loving plants stayedaway, whileothers were killed off or discolored. The effects of the limestoneruins are still apparent today tosome satellite sensors.

    Much of the contemporary rural population of the YucatánPeninsula, Chiapas (both in Mexico), Guatemalaand Belize is Maya bydescent and primary language.

    Maya sitesSee also: List of Maya sites

    There are hundreds of significant Maya sites, and thousands ofsmaller ones. The largest and mosthistorically importantinclude:

    CancuénChichen ItzaCobaComalcalcoCopánDos PilasKalakmulElMiradorNakbéNaranjo

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  • Ancient history

    ↑ Prehistory

    Ancient Near East

    Sumer · Elam · Akkad ·Babylonia · Hittite Empire ·Syro-Hittitestates ·Neo-Assyrian Empire · Urartu

    Ancient Africa

    Egypt · Nubia · Land of Punt ·Axum · Nok · Carthage

    Classical Antiquity

    Archaic Greece · MedianEmpire . Classical Greece ·AchaemenidEmpire · SeleucidEmpire · Dacia · Thrace ·Scythia · Macedon ·RomanRepublic · Roman Empire ·Parthia . Parthian Empire ·SassanidEmpire · LateAntiquity

    East Asia

    Hồng Bàng Dynasty · Gojoseon· Shang China · Qin Dynasty ·HanDynasty · Jin Dynasty

    PalenquePiedras NegrasQuiriguáSeibalTikalUaxactúnUxmalYaxha

    See alsoChildhood in Maya societyHunac CeelMaya calendarMayadeath ritualsMaya health and medicineMaya mythologyMayanumeralsMaya peoplesMaya textilesMayan languagesPre-Columbian MayamusicTrade in Maya civilizationList of Mesoamerican pyramids

    Footnotes^ "Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of theAncient Maya( ".University of Pennsylvania Almanac. University of Pennsylvania.4/7/2009. 2009-06-17.


    ^ COE, MICHAEL D. - (1999 -). The Maya (Sixth edition - ed.).New York -: Dante Reed -. pp. 31 -. ISBN0-500-28066-5.


    ^^^ See, forexample, Drew (2004), p.6.5.^ Coe, Michael D. (2002). The Maya (6thed.). Thames & Hudson. pp. 47.6.

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  • South Asia

    Vedic India · Maha Janapadas ·Mauryan India · Chola India·Satavahana India · Gupta India

    Pre-Columbian Americas

    Aztecs · Incas · Mayas · Olmecs· Teotihuacan

    see also: World history · Ancientmaritime history · Protohistory·Axial Age · Iron Age ·Historiography · Ancientliterature · Ancientwarfare ·Cradle of civilization

    ↓Middle Ages

    ^ HISTORY OF WRITING and RELIGION(^Coe, Michael D. (2002). The Maya (6th ed.). Thames & Hudson.pp. 63–64.8.^ Coe, Michael D. (2002). The Maya (6th ed.). Thames& Hudson. pp. 81.9.^ "Maya Art Return( ". Retrieved2006-12-25.


    ^ See Coggins (1992).11.^ Coe, Michael D. (2002). The Maya (6thed.). New York: Thames & Hudson. pp. 151–155. ISBN0-500-28066-5.12.^ University of Florida study: Maya politicslikely played role in ancient large-game decline, Nov.2007(


    ^ Gill, R. (2000). The Great Maya Droughts. Albuquerque:University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0826321941.14.^ Hodell, DavidA.; Curtis, Jason H.; Brenner, Mark (1995). "Possible role ofclimate in the collapse of ClassicMaya civilization". Nature 375(6530): 391–394. doi:10.1038/375391a0( .


    ^ Love 2007, p.305. Sharer 2006, pp.621, 625.16.^ "The AncientMaya", Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler Contributor Loa P. Traxler,p126, Stanford University Press,2006, ISBN 0804748179


    ^ Both terms appear in early Colonial texts (including Papelesde Paxbolón) where they are used as synonymous toAztec and Spanishterms for supreme rulers and their domains – tlahtoani (Tlatoani)and tlahtocayotl, rey ormagestad and reino, señor and señorío ordominio.


    ^ Saturno, WA; Stuart D, Beltran B (Mar 3 2006). "Early Mayawriting at San Bartolo, Guatemala". Science 311(5765): 1281–3.doi:10.1126/science.1121745( . PMID16400112( .


    ^ Skidmore (2006).20.^ "Earliest Maya Writing Found inGuatemala, Researchers Say(" 2007-06-06. The followingyear saw the publication ofresearch on a tablet containing some 62 glyphs that had been foundnear the Olmec center of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, whichwas datedby association to approximately 900 BC. This would make thisputative Olmec script (see Cascajal Block) the oldest known forMesoamerica;see Skidmore (2006, passim)


    ^ Miller and Taube (1993, p.131)22.^ As interpreted by Krupp1999.23.^ Demarest, Arthur. Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of aRainforest Civilization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2004 pg. 32-33.24.

    ReferencesCoggins, Clemency (Ed.) (1992). Artifacts from theCenote of Sacrifice Chichen Itza, Yucatan: Textiles, Basketry,Stone, Shell, Ceramics, Wood, Copal,

    Rubber (Memoirs of the Peabody Museum). Harvard UniversityPress. ISBN 0-873-65694-6.

    Culbert, T.Patrick (Ed.) (1977). Classic Maya Collapse.University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-826-30463-X.

    Drew, David (2004). The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings (Newedition ed.). London: Phoenix Press. ISBN 0-753-80989-3.

    Krupp, Edward C. (1999), "Igniting the Hearth(", Sky & Telescope (February): 94,

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  •,retrieved 2006-10-19

    Love, Michael (December 2007). "Recent Research in the SouthernHighlands and Pacific Coast of Mesoamerica". Journal ofArchaeological Research(Springer Netherlands) 15 (4): 275–328.doi:10.1007/s10814-007-9014-y( . ISSN1573-7756( .

    Miller, Mary; Simon Martin (2004). Courtly Art of the AncientMaya. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05129-1.

    Miller, Mary; Karl Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of AncientMexico and the Maya. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN0-500-05068-6.

    Reyes-Valerio, Constantino (1993). De Bonampak al Templo Mayor:Historical del Azul Maya en Mesoamerica. Siglo XXI editores.ISBN968-23-1893-9.

    Sharer, Robert J.; Loa P. Traxler (2006). The Ancient Maya (6th,fully revised ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN0-8047-4817-9. OCLC57577446 (

    Skidmore, Joel (2006). "The Cascajal Block: The EarliestPrecolumbian Writing (" (PDF). MesowebReports & News. Mesoweb.

    Webster, David L. (2002). The Fall of the Ancient Maya. London:Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05113-5.

    Coe, Michael D. (1999). The Maya (Sixth edition ed.). New York:Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28066-5.

    "Maya Ruins(". NASA EarthObservatory. 2006-04-28.

    Further readingBraswell, Geoffrey E. (2003). The Maya andTeotihuacan: Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction. Austin, TX:University of Texas Press. ISBN0292709145. OCLC 49936017( .Christie, Jessica Joyce(2003). Maya Palaces and Elite Residences: An InterdisciplinaryApproach. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN0292712448.OCLC 50630511 ( .Demarest, ArthurAndrew (2004). Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a RainforestCivilization. Cambridge, England; New York, NY: CambridgeUniversityPress. ISBN 0521592240. OCLC 51438896( .Demarest, Arthur Andrew,Prudence M. Rice, and Don Stephen Rice (2004). The Terminal Classicin the Maya Lowlands: Collapse, Transition, andTransformation.Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. ISBN 0870817396. OCLC52311867 ( .Garber, James (2004).The Ancient Maya of the Belize Valley: Half a Century ofArchaeological Research. Gainesville, FL: University PressofFlorida. ISBN 0813026857. OCLC 52334723( .Herring, Adam (2005). Art andWriting in the Maya cities, AD 600-800: A Poetics of Line.Cambridge, England; New York, NY: CambridgeUniversity Press. ISBN0521842468. OCLC 56834579 (, Jon C. and Fred Valdez (2004). Ancient Maya Commoners.Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292705719. OCLC54529926

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  • This page was last modified on 21 December 2009 at 16:37.Text isavailable under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlikeLicense; additional terms may apply. See Terms of Use fordetails.

    ( .Lucero, Lisa Joyce (2006).Water and Ritual: The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers. Austin,TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292709994.OCLC 61731425( .McKillop, Heather Irene(2005). In Search of Maya Sea Traders. College Station, TX: Texas A& M University Press. ISBN 1585443891. OCLC55145823( .McKillop, Heather Irene(2002). Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya. Gainesville, FL:University Press of Florida. ISBN 0813025117. OCLC48893025( .McNeil, Cameron L. (2006).Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao. Gainesville,FL: University Press of Florida. ISBN0813029538. OCLC 63245604( .Rice, Prudence M. (2004). MayaPolitical Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos (1st editioned.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN0292702612. OCLC54753496 ( .Sharer, Robert J. andLoa P. Traxler (2006). The ancient Maya (6th edition ed.).Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804748160.OCLC57577446 ( .Tiesler, Vera andAndrea Cucina (2006). Janaab' Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing theLife and Death of a Maya Ruler. Tucson, AZ: University ofArizonaPress. ISBN 0816525102. OCLC 62593473( .

    External linksFoundation for the Advancement of MesoamericanStudies, Inc (FAMSI) ( Math andastronomy( (Dutchand English) (, Cradle of The MayaCivilization ( Society and somephotos of Tools, Weapons & Artifacts( Art of the AncientMaya at the National Gallery of Art( about Maya hieroglyphs( and Mayanumbering from theNational Gallery of Art( byGenry Joil.Mesoweb ( by Joel Skidmore.TheDaily Glyph ( by DavePentecost.Junglecasts ( -podcasts by Ed Barnhart, Nicco Mele, Dave PentecostAncientCivilizations - Maya( Research site forkidsThe Mayan Kingdom ( APhotographic Web Book on the Mayan Civilization by Tony Trupp

    Retrieved from""Categories: Mayacivilization

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Maya civilization - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia...From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written - [PDF Document] (2024)


What were the Maya civilization known for? ›

The Ancient Mayans developed the science of astronomy, calendar systems, and hieroglyphic writing. They were also known for creating elaborate ceremonial architecture, such as pyramids, temples, palaces, and observatories. These structures were all built without metal tools.

Who killed the Maya? ›

The Mayan people were eventually conquered by Spanish colonizers between 1517 and 1546 AD. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, some large, ancient Maya cities were already abandoned.

Is the Maya a Mesoamerican civilization? ›

The Maya civilization (/ˈmaɪə/) was a Mesoamerican civilization that existed from antiquity to the early modern period. It is known by its ancient temples and glyphs (script). The Maya script is the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in the pre-Columbian Americas.

Are Mayans still alive? ›

Today, more than seven million Maya live in their original homelands of Mesoamerica and in countries all over the world. Two thousand years ago, the ancient Maya developed one of the most advanced civilizations in the Americas.

How many Mayans were killed by the Spanish? ›

Now, the new diseases imported by the Spaniards, killed millions of Native American, at minimun several hundred of thousands of Mayas (some authors speak of two millions, only counting the Mayas. others speak about 500,000 to 600,000, again only counting the Mayas).

Did the Maya sacrifice blood? ›

Blood was viewed as a potent source of nourishment for the Maya deities, and the sacrifice of a living creature was a powerful blood offering. By extension, the sacrifice of human life was the ultimate offering of blood to the gods, and the most important Maya rituals culminated in human sacrifice.

Who defeated Maya? ›

The Itza Maya and other lowland groups in the Petén Basin were first contacted by Hernán Cortés in 1525, but remained independent and hostile to the encroaching Spanish until 1697, when a concerted Spanish assault led by Martín de Urzúa y Arizmendi finally defeated the last independent Maya kingdom.

Why did Mayans disappear? ›

Scholars have suggested a number of potential reasons for the downfall of Maya civilization in the southern lowlands, including overpopulation, environmental degradation, warfare, shifting trade routes and extended drought. It's likely that a complex combination of factors was behind the collapse.

Who were the Mayans for kids? ›

Maya are Indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America. Between about 250 and 900 ce the Maya had a way of life that was very advanced for the time. The Mayan civilization began a fast decline after 900. No one knows for sure why this happened.

Who is older the Mayans or Aztecs? ›

The Aztecs emerged later, around the 14th century, and their civilisation flourished until the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. The Maya predated the Aztecs by roughly 600 to 800 years.

What race are Mayans? ›

The Maya (/ˈmaɪə/) are an ethnolinguistic group of indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. The ancient Maya civilization was formed by members of this group, and today's Maya are generally descended from people who lived within that historical region.

Where did Mayans go after death? ›

The concept of the afterlife, or Xibalba, differs between the Maya ethnic groups. Many have a generalized belief of all souls going to the afterlife, being reincarnated or having another role to participate in after death, but these ideas change dramatically with the rise of Christianity.

Is the Mayans ending? ›

ended its five-season ride with a shock-filled series finale. Warning: This article contains spoilers for the series finale of Mayans M.C., "Slow to Bleed Fair Son." "I'm ready." With those two words, EZ Reyes (JD Pardo) ended his turbulent — and very bloody — reign as El Presidente of the Mayans motorcycle club.

What did the Maya focus on? ›

Initially, anthropologists thought the Maya were peaceful, focusing their energy only on agriculture, building, and astronomy. Despite these previous beliefs, further research on architecture and carvings suggests that the Maya Civilization was a militarized, often warring society.

What did the Maya civilization believe in? ›

The Maya had a polytheistic religion, which means they worshipped many gods, including Itzam Na (Creator God), Kinich Ahau (Sun God), Ah Puch (one of several death gods), and Buluc Chabtan (War God). They practiced animism, which is the belief that all things, including inanimate objects, had a soul.


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