The Mayan Civilization was one of the most sophisticated civilizations in the Americas. The Maya civilization was located on the Yucatán Peninsula, and flourished between A.D. 300 and 900. The Maya built splendid temples and pyramids and developed a complicated calendar as accurate as any existence in the world at that time. The Maya were a farming people who cleared the dense forests, developed farming, and centered their culture in city-states. The Maya also created a sophisticated writing system based on hieroglyphs, or pictures. Most of the Maya people were peasant farmer. They lived on tiny plots or on terraced hills in the highlands. Women made the cornmeal, the basic food of much of the population. After the collapse of Teotihuacán, a new people rose to prominence in central America. Most significant were the Toltec. The Toltec Empire reached its high point between A.D. 950 and 1150.
What were their cities like?
Maya cities were built around a central pyramid topped by a shrine to the gods. Nearby were other temples, palaces and a sacred ball court. Scholars believe that over 100,000 inhabitants may have lived in urban centers such as Tikal in present day Guatemala.
What did they wear?
The ancient Maya are well-known for their exotic, vibrant, and unique appearances. They exploited the materials available to them in their tropical environments to manufacture colorful textiles and striking ornamentation. They produced a wide range of outfits for different occasions, including lavish dress for large public events; vibrant dance costumes; protective armour for conflicts; sporting attire; and simpler, yet no less sophisticated, clothing for everyday situations.
What did they eat?
Women made cornmeal which was the basic food of much of the population. The Maya also cultivated cacao trees, which were a source of chocolate. Chocolate was a beverage by the upper classes. Cacao beans, the fruit of the cacao tree, were used as money in markets throughout the region. The main ingredients of the Mayan dishes were and still are corn, black beans, and squash.
How did they keep track of time?
The Maya used two different systems for measuring time. One was based on a solar calendar of 365 days, divided into 18 months and 20 days each, with an extra 5 days at the end. The other system was based on a sacred calendar of 260 days divided into 13 weeks of 20 days. Only trained priest could read and use this calendar to foretell the future and know the omens associated with each day.
What kind of gods did they believe in?
Mayan religion was characterized by the worship of nature gods (especially the gods of sun, rain and corn), a priestly class, the importance of astronomy and astrology, rituals of human sacrifice, and the building of elaborate pyramidical temples. Their main gods were Itzamná or "Lizard House," Kukulcán (Quetzalcóatl), Bolon Tzacab, and Chac. Gods were ranked in order of importance.
How were their families and society structured?
Most of the Maya people were peasant farmers. They lived on tiny plots or on terraced hills in highlands. Houses were built of adobe and thatch. There was a fairly clear-cut division of labor. Men did all the hunting and fighting; women, the homemaking and raising the children. Women also made cornmeal, the basic food of much of the population. The Maya social classes was a system of social organization. It is divided in ahau (king), nobles, priests, merchants and artisans, and lastly peasants and slaves.