Maya Civilization - A.D 300-900

The Ancient Mayan lived in the Yucat√°n. The Ancient Maya were at their peak of power during the 6th century. They 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.

1. Region

The Maya Empire existed in a region of Mexico and Central America often referred to as Mesoamerica. This surrounds the Yucatan Peninsula, (Tabasco and Chiapas of present day Mexico) Guatemala, Belize and also some western parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The region is broken into the Lowlands and the Highlands.

- The Lowlands:

The lowlands are bordered on the North and West by the Gulf of Mexico, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. The northern lowland climate is hot and from May through October, it often brings insufficient rainfall. Rivers and lakes are virtually nonexistent and only large sinkholes filled with rainwater, provide water. The southern lowlands consist of rainforest and savannas where lakes and rivers are fed by the Usumacinta River.

- The Highlands:

The highlands are a wide areas of mountains and valleys of the Sierra Madre. In the south, its bordered on the edge by a narrow coastal plain bc of the Pacific Ocean. Although there could be a lot of tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes, the soil is fertile and the climate pleasantly cooler than the lowlands. During May and November, there is a lot of rain & in June & October, it just gets a peak of rainfall.

2. People

The Mayans were indigenous people that depended on farming because they used the land for agriculture. The Maya civilization was never united under one governing body. Jewelry & physical appearance was important to them. Herbs used in cooking are often grown in pots next to their homes. Farmland begins outside the center of the village and may be as far away as a two-hour walk.

- Appearance:

The Mayans were short people with dark hair. Both woman and men, wore their hair long and tied back. They believed that flattened foreheads were beautiful. While their skulls were still soft, babies had wooden frames attached to them to flatten them. The Mayans also believed that being cross-eyed was attractive, so they would tied a bead on the front of a child's head so it dangled between their eyes & they would get cross-eyes by looking at the bead. Mayans also tattooed themselves and filed their teeth. The nobles put clay on top of their noses to make a long ridge. The rich Mayans also wore jewelry made from jade. They would hunt macaws and parrots for their feathers, which were used to make headdresses.

- Families & Clothing:


Mayan women carried small children on their backs. That left their hands free for cooking and weaving. Girls learned these skills from their mothers. They also learned to make pottery. Mayan boys learned farming and other trades from their fathers. Both boys and girls got married in the early or mid teens. Their parents would get help by a matchmaker to chose a partner for them.

Living in a hot climate, both woman & men wore simple cotton clothes with leather sandals. Men wore a loincloth. Women wore a long cotton dress called a huipil. If turned cold, they wore a cloak called a manta.

- Religion:

The Mayans were polytheistic. The most important god was the sun god. However, almost every aspect of life their life had its own god; for example, there was a maize god and even a god of tattooing. The Mayans believed that it was important to keep the gods happy. To please them the Mayans would burned sweet substances in their temples. They also practiced human sacrifice. Captives taken in war were often the people they sacrificed.

The Mayans built many pyramid shaped temples and they had many priests. The priest practiced fortune telling and they were the ones that carried out sacrifices. The Mayans also had many religious ceremonies that involved music and dancing. They played wooden flutes and trumpets and drums made from turtle shells.

One religious ceremony involved playing a ball game called Pok-A-Tok. It was played with a solid rubber ball. They weren't allowed to touch the ball with their hands or feet. Instead you had to use your knees, hips, elbows and forearms. Sometimes prisoners of war were forced to play Pok-A-Tok and were sacrificed afterwards.

- Social Structure & Society:

Ordinary people lived in the surrounding houses. Most of them lived in the countryside but many cities were large. Some had populations of 45,000. There was a class system in Ancient Maya times. Between the ruling class and the farmer/laborer, there was an educated nobility who were scribes, artists and architects. Evidence of their skills are in works of stone, stucco, jade, bone, & also pottery that we've found.

There were a mayans with a single culture and religion divided into many city states. Each city state was ruled by a man with absolute power. Although they had unlimited power, Mayan rulers usually had a council of important men to advise them. Warfare between the kingdoms was common.

In the center of each Mayan city was an area of palaces, pyramid temples, (in which some  were 70 meters high) and squares, where religious ceremonies were held. In the squares were stones which were carved with the dates of important ceremonies and events.

- Calendar & Writing:

The Maya kept time with a combination of several cycles that stuck together to mark the movement of the sun, moon and Venus. Their ritual calendar, known as the Tzolkin, was composed of 260 days. It pairs the numbers from 1 through 13 with a sequence of the 20 day-names. It works something like our days of the week pairing with the numbers of the month. The Tzolkin calendar was meshed with a 365-day solar cycle called the "Haab". The calendar consisted of 18 months with 20 days (numbered 0-19) and a short "month" of only 5 days that was called the Wayeb and was considered to be a dangerous time. It took 52 years for the Tzolkin and Haab calendars to move through a complete cycle.

     The calligraphic style and pictorial pictures of Maya glyphs are like no other writing system. Thats why many explorers, scholars, and enthusiasts, are attracted to the Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Modern scholars agree that the Mayan glyphs are one of only three writing systems in the ancient world to be invented independently. This writing system was a combination of phonetic symbols and ideograms. It is the only writing system of the New World that can completely represent spoken language to the same degree as the written language of the old world.


3. Food

   The men did all the hunting & gathering of foods in the Maya Civilization. The woman did the cropping of corn & other goods. The Mayans did not have animals for carrying loads, so all the goods were carried by men. All their weapons and tools were made from wood and stone. They practiced 'slash and burn' agriculture which was the cutting of tress down in a forest and burning them. They did their crops in May and harvested them in November. However, after a few years the soil would lose its fertility, so then the farmers would then 'slash and burn' another part of the forest. Meanwhile the abandoned area would become overgrown again. Mayan farmers also drained swampy areas for farming. They dug canals for irrigation. The farmers didn't have plows but they did use digging sticks. Maize (corn) was the main food of the Mayans but they also grew beans, chilies, sweet potatoes and squashes. The Mayans also ate fruit like papaya, watermelon and avocados. The Mayans ate animals like deer, turkeys, dogs, wild pigs, fish and a kind of rodent called an agouti & they also collected bees for their honey.

   In the mornings, Mayans ate a 'porridge' made of maize and chilies called saka. During the day, they ate tamales which are made of maize dough with vegetables or meat inside  of them & they were wrapped in leaves from maize plants. The main meal was in the evening which consisted of  maize, were these pancakes-like things called tortillas. They were eaten with 'stew'  that was made of vegetable and meat. The Mayans drank an alcoholic drink called blache & the nobles would drink chocolate which is also called cacao.

4. Tools & Weapons:

The ancient Mayas did not use metal tools because metals were not common to the area that they inhabited. The tools that they had to work with were very simple. They used tools such as fire and basalt axes on wood. Fire was very unpredictable so they switched to basalt axes for a little more precision.

These jadeite tools were the principal tools used by Maya technicians: sculptors, stonecutters, wood carvers, and other artisans. These tools include various sizes and shapes of chisels, gouges, adzes, axes, and hoes.

5. Shelter:

Ordinary Mayans lived in simple huts of wood or stone with thatched roofs. They had no chimneys or windows. They did not have wooden doors either. Instead, doorways were hung with cloth screens. There was very little furniture. Mayans slept on beds, which were low platforms made of a wooden frame filled with woven bark. Dead Mayans were buried under the floors of their houses. Rich Mayans, of course, lived in far more elaborate homes with many rooms.

Some of these houses were rectangular single rooms with rounded corners. Sometimes there was another door that led to a second hut, used as both a kitchen and a chicken coup. In the traditional kitchens, women would cook on a grill set over three rocks. When the hammocks were hung, the main, single-room house was converted into a dormitory.

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