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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Maya civilization


The Maya civilization was an ancient Mesoamerican civilization in an area that encompasses modern-day southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.

The Maya area within Mesoamerica. By Kmusser - Foster, Lynn (2002). Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World. New York, US: Oxford University Press. Wikipedia Commons
The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, used by several pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations, notably the Mayans, begun in 3114 BC.

The earliest villages developed before 2000 BC, and the first Maya cities developed around 750 BC; by 500 BC, these cities possessed monumental architecture.


Beginning in the mid third century, the Classic period saw the Maya civilization develop a large number of city-states linked by a complex trade network. Cacao beans were used throughout Mesoamerica as currency.

Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities and it was likely to have been one of the mythical great cities, or Tollans, referred to in later Mesoamerican literature. The archaeological site is located in Tinúm Municipality, Yucatán State, Mexico.

Chichen Itza By John Romkey from USA - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia Commons

The Maya developed highly sophisticated artforms, complex calendars, and mathematics that included one of the earliest instances of the explicit zero in the world.

Though Venus is an elusive planet - by turns it is the morning and the evening star - its path was calculated by the Mayas with an error of only fourteen seconds a year

Maya architecture included ceremonial ballcourts. The Mayans played a game with a ball of solid rubber. Two teams passed the ball to and fro between them, without using their hands. They had to strike it either with the knee, elbow, or hip, for which protectors were worn. The object was to get the ball through one of the rings. When accomplished, it marked the end of the game and the losing side's captain. was beheaded by the captain of the winning team.

The Mayans considered their ball game to be a serious and solemn fertility rite. The result of the game, they were convinced, determined the life of future generations and the continuation of the cycle of nature - whether there would be rain or drought.

The Great Ballcourt of Chichen Itza. By Jan Zatko - Wikipedia Commons

Human sacrifice among the Maya was performed in a number of ways, including decapitation, heart extraction, shooting with bow and arrows and disembowelment.

The Mayans believed that throwing women into water wells would please their rain god.

The Maya people were fond of liquid chocolate drinks with a foamy, frothy top. The consumption of chocolate was mainly restricted to the society's elite. The beverage was made by mixing ground maize (corn) and the roasted, crushed cocoa beans, which was grown on cocoa plantations by the Mayans with a little water. They then flavored it with fragrant herbs, honey and chili.

The liquid chocolate was used by the Maya people as a medicine. Its naturally occurring antioxidant compounds could help prevent heart disease and even cancer.

The jaguar was a key figure in Mayan mythology, and also lent its name to many rulers. The British Museum houses limestone carvings depicting Shield Jaguar, a Maya king who ruled in Yaxchilan from 681 until he died in the year 742 and his aunt and wife, Lady Xoc.

By 300 BC the Maya were using Hieroglyphic writing, the most advanced script in the pre-Columbian Americas. During their classic period, this literate civilization appears to have once had entire libraries of books. Only three of their books of history and ritual knowledge are known for certain to remain.

Pages from the Postclassic period Paris Codex, one of the few surviving Maya books in existence


In the 9th century, there was a widespread political collapse in the central Maya region. The cities in the southern lowlands had more and more problems until all the people left. Historians are not sure what actually happened. Some believe there was a big environmental disaster, or an epidemic, or even that there were just too many Mayans for the amount of food they could grow.

In the 16th century, the Spanish Empire colonized the region;. The Christian conquerors of Central America determined to destroy all traces of the Maya civilization. Diego de Landa, the first Bishop of Yucatan, ordered all Maya books to be burnt and all Maya Temples to be destroyed.

A March 8, 1576 letter written by Diego García de Palacio, a member of the Royal Audience of Guatemala, to King Philip II of Spain contained the first European mention of the Mayan ruins of Copán in modern Honduras.

The West Court of Copán

It took the Spanish 170 years to conquer the Maya lands as the Mayans had no capital city and each city had a different culture. The last Mayan states, the Itza city of Tayasal and the Ko'woj city of Zacpeten, which were both located deep in the jungle, still had people living in them late into the 17th century. They were finally conquered in 1697.

There are still about 6 million Maya people living in Central America.

The lone surviving written record of Mayan history is three codices written in hieroglyphs on bark paper.

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