The Mayan civilization was located in the region of Central America that currently makes up the Yucatan Peninsula, southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and northern El Salvador.
They began their culture around 2000 B.C. and had a strong Mesoamerican presence for over 3,000 years. They created powerful city-states including Tikal, El Mirador, Chichen Itza, Caracol, and Uxmal.
They were masters of making use of the natural substances around them, including building large stone structures and pyramids to their gods.
Mayans are noted for being the only civilization in the Americas to create their own written language. They were very advanced in art, architecture, mathematics, and astronomy.
While most civilizations had a central government, the Mayans had a collection of smaller city-states, each one responsible for its own rule.
Mayan Religion and Politics:
The Mayan people based much of their everyday life on their religious beliefs.
They believed that the universe included two completely separate worlds which were made up of the otherworld and the everyday world.
The otherworld was the place where spirits, gods, and their dead ancestors resided. It was the responsibility of the village chief to act as their leader and the chief would work with the local priest to stand between the otherworld and the people of the village.
Various important ceremonies were conducted to make sure those in the otherworld would bless them, and it often included human sacrifice as well as bloodletting by the priest.
Many areas of water called “chenitzas” have been found both under their pyramids and out in the open. It’s believed that the Mayans made sacrifices to the gods in these bodies of water.
Mayans are given credit for being one of the first civilizations to create and play professional sports.
Their most important game was called Pok-a-tok, and required two teams. Each player had protective padding and the goal of the game was to take a solid rubber ball around the size of our basketball, and hit it into a stone hoop.
The rules stated that the ball could only be bounced off of the leather that was attached to their legs, arms and chest and they couldn’t pick up the ball.
Experts in science, medicine, and astronomy, the Mayans developed a 360 day calendar which they used as a guide for planting and harvesting their crops and for various ceremonies for their religion.
They developed a very complex system of writing that included symbols and an alphabet to communicate complete words as well as thoughts.
They carved these in everything from bone to stone and many have been found today.
The Mayan Golden Age is considered to have been from 250 A.D. to 900 A.D. It’s not completely understood why the civilization began to fade, but some historians think that it might be due to warring between different rulers.
By the late 900’s A.D. the civilization had all but vanished and their cities began to be overgrown.
Most Fascinating Information about the Mayans:
- The medicine men of the Mayan culture were thought to exist between the spiritual and physical worlds. They perfected many medical procedures including repairing bone fractures, creating dentures from turquoise and jade, using iron pyrite to fill cavities, and using human hair to sew up wounds.
- The Mayans discovered how to make various grades of rubber from the rubber plant. They stabilized the material by mixing it with plant substances, and natural latex to achieve different grades of “bouncing”. Whether this was due to their need for a good ball for their sport or for other uses is unknown.
- They were experts at math! The Mayans developed a sophisticated numbering system called “calendar script’ and they worked with a combination of ritual astronomy, calendar, and numerology. They are credited as the first civilization to discover “zero.” They also thought certain numbers such as “9” and “13” were magic.
- Using the latest LIDAR and drone technologies, scientists are now able to peel back the images of overgrown areas and reveal many of the Mayan cities that were never before known.