The Mayan Culture

The Mayan Civilization

The Mayan people are of the Mesoamerican civilization. They have a fully developed Pre-Columbian language, were advanced in sciences such as math, art, architecture and astronomical systems.

Many Mayan cities reached their highest state development during the Classic Period and continued to rise throughout the Post Classic period. At one point, the Mayans were the most densely populated society of the world and dominated the cultural dynamics of the societies that existed at that time.

The Mayans have many of the same features as other Mesoamerican civilizations because they were interactive with each other. The Mayans developed writing, epigraphy and calendars that did they did not originate.

Mayan influences can be detected from Honduras, Guatemala, Northern El Salvador, and as far as central Mexico. You can see influences from other places in their art, and architecture. The Mayan people didn't disappear. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and colonization of them affected their declination. You can see many Mayan people living in modern cities today, throughout the area. Modern Mayans still maintain the distinctive set of traditions and beliefs from their old cultures, combining per-Columbian and post Conquest ideas.

Geographically, they lived from the Sierra Madre mountain region to the semi arid plans of the northern Yucatan. There were three defined zones; Mayan highlands, the central lowlands, and the northern lowlands.

The Preclassic period initiated around the 10th century. They created huge monumental structures during this time. They developed the Mayan calendar, based around the "Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar. This calendar begins on August 11, 3114 B.C. The Mayans have been around since 1800 BC, in the Pacific Coastline. These people were sedentary, creating clay pottery and figurines.

The Classic Period brought large scale construction and significant intellectual and artistic advancement. They developed agriculture, and politics. During this time period, some of the great cities that still exist today, were developed like Tikal, Palenque, Uxmal, Copan, Bonampak, Altun Ha, Uaxactun, and Calakmul.

Most of these monuments include the stepped, steep pyramids, as seen in Chichen Itza. They housed their political and religious leaders in these.

Cancuen had one of the largest palaces in the Mayan world, but today, lacks any pyramids. The city was a major trade center for jade, pyrite, and obsidian. The palace covered 23,000 square meters and had over 200 rooms. The city had two ball parks, marketplaces, and a dock. These people had their religious sites far from the city, near the mountains. One of the most interesting finds here is the city's ruler of the day, Kan Maaz, was executed and dumped into a cistern. To historians, this leads them to believe that it was connected to the massacre from the upheaval caused by the collapse of the Mayan Civilization in 800 A.D.

The site was virtually undiscovered until 1905. They thought it to be insignificant until 1967, when they uncovered the largest ruins of the Mayan world. This palace was a maze of hundreds of rooms, high 20 foot ceilings and covered 3 square miles.

It is still unknown exactly why the Mayan centers declined in the 8th and 9th centuries and finally abandoned. The non ecological theories are overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of the key trade routes. Ecological theories include a meteorite shower that hit the area, or another environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change. There is proof that the Mayans exhausted the agricultural capacity, and overhunting. There is evidence that there was a 200 year drought that may have lead to the demise of the Mayan civilization.

The Colonial period began when the Spanish attempted to subjugate the Mayans who were hostile towards the Spanish. They established most of their presence in the Yucatan peninsula and Guatamala. It took the Spanish over 170 years to finally establish control over the Mayan lands.

One of the reasons it took them so long to conquer the Mayan lands, is because the Yucatan was not rich in minerals, like other areas like central Mexico and Peru.

The Spanish destroyed many Mayan relics, texts, and the knowledge that the Mayans had already recorded. The texts and their knowledge of writing disappeared. Only three per-Columbian books have been preserved. The last Mayan settlements, Itza and Ko'woj, city of Zacpeten, were the finally under Spanish rule in 1697.

The arrival of the Spanish changed everything.

Mayan Numbers

The Mayans had a sophisticated numerical sequencing, using the dot, bar and Shell. This evolution of math took place independent of knowledge of numbers from Europe. This was the most efficient place-value system, over the Hindu and Arabic numbers. This system was used since the Pre-Columbian American.

Popol Vuh-One of the Only Books of the Mayans

The Popol Vuh is a book written by the Mayans containing mythological narratives and a genealogy of the rules of the Post classic Mayan kingdom of Guatemala. The second part of the book deal with details of the foundation and history of the royal family with legendary Gods in order to assert rule by divine right. The book is written in Latin alphabet is thought to have been cased on an original Mayan Codez in the original Mayan hieroglyphic script. The original manuscript was written around 1550, is lost, but a copy of another handwritten copy made buy Friar Francisco Ximenez in the early 18th century


Pitz is the ancientMayan ballgame. Visitors will enjoy a re-enactment in Xel-ha evening shows, at Chichen Itza and other tourist sites.

Mayan Class System in their Culture

Ornamenting themselves

The Mayan Calendar

Components of the Mayan Calendar

The Kin

The Maya year has a basic unit called Kin, a word that means day, Sun, etc. The Tzolkin calendar has a cycle of 20 day names conbined with a cycle of 13 day numbers. Each of these 20 names has a glyph to represent it, these are:MayanCalendarcomponent1.jpg

The Uinal

The Maya year is divided in 19 months, they are designated Uinal, each has a name and a corresponding glyph. Of these months, the first eighteen have twenty days and the last one, called Uayeb, has only five. The days within a month are numbered from 0 to 19 with the exception of Uayeb which is numbered from 0 to 4.MayanCalendarcomponent2.jpg

The Numbers

To write their dates the Maya used both the glyph corresponding to the different time periods and a number for each of them. The Maya developed a unique mathematical system that uses dots for units and bars for five units. The numbers can be written vertically or horizontally. They discovered and used the zero as well as a vigesimal positioning system, similar to the decimal positioning system used today. Its symbols and their Arabic equivalents are:
Since the Maya numerical system is based on 20 units, when a number higher than 19 has to be written, a vertical positioning system that grows upwards is commonly used. Thus in order to write 20 they would place a zero in the bottom position with a dot on top of it. The dot in this place means one unit of the second order which is worth 20. To write 21, the zero would change to a dot and for the subsequent numbers the original 19 number count will follow in the first position. As they in turn reach 19 again, another units is added to the second position. This unit, for normal mathematical calculations, is worth 400 (20 x 20) , so to write 401 a dot goes in the first position , a zero in the second and a dot in the third. Positions higher than the third also grow multiplied by twenties from the previous ones. Only in the Maya calendric calculations is the third place unit worth 360 instead of 400, but after that, the rest of the positions also grow multiplied by twenties. Examples follow:MayanCalendarcomponent4.jpgMayanCalendarcomponent5.jpg
As we mentioned previously the Maya set a fixed date to initiate their calendric calculations. This date is 4 Ahau 8 Kumku which in the Gregorian calendar used today corresponds to August 13, 3114 BC As we do today, to write any specific date they would consider the time elapsed since the beginning of their calendar. In order to do this the days were grouped into units like today's years and centuries. Each of these units had a specific symbol (glyph). Their system is:
Using these glyphs combined with numbers, any date can be written as the number of days that have passed since the beginning of the calendar. The Maya wrote their dates of importance in stone monuments called stelae some of which we can still see today.



Mayan Gods

Mayan Foods

Modern Entertainment

The Mayan Prophecy of 2012


Mayan Art

Mayan Education

Mayan Beauty

Mayan Jewelry

Mayan Clothing


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