Mayan Civilisation was one of the most developed and longest living Mesoamerican civilisations. The civilisation continued to flourish for more than 3000 years and created rich culture, art, architecture, and a complex society. The Maya Civilisation mainly developed in the area that comprises of present day south eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and western parts of Honduras and El Salvador.
The Mayans were known for their powerful economy, thriving cities, fully developed writing script, impressive architecture, and artistic achievements. The ruler of the Mayans, just like other Mesoamerican civilisations, was the ultimate authority on the land and was often considered having descended from the gods.
The decline of the Mayan civilisation was gradual due to a multitude of reasons such as drought, deforestation, wars, and climate change. The final blow came with the Spanish invasion that resulted in the conquest of the Mayans. However, the culture of the Mayans lives on to this day.
Mayans Gods - Learn about Mayan Gods such as Chaac, Kukulkan and Itzamna. Mayan Gods Images, Facts and Information! Read more about the Mayan Gods >>
Among the most notable Mayan cities were El Mirador, Tikal, Caracol and later, Chichen Itza. Few of these Mayan cities exist today Read more about the Mayan Cities >>
The most important sites of Mayan ruins, include Tikal, Calakmul, Copan, Chichen Itza, Palenque, and Xunantunich, among others Read more about the Mayan Ruins >>
Mayan Civilisation was the most magnificent civilisation of Mesoamerican region that flourished during its peak period from 250AD to 900AD Read more about the Mayan Civilization >>
Mayan Architecture was one of the impressive feats of the Mayan Empire. Mayan Pyramids were the top buildings in Mayan Architectural Design Read more about the Mayan Architecture >>
From 250 A.D. to 900 A.D., Mayan civilisation saw the rise of many great city-states such as Tikal, Calakmul and Copan Read more about the Mayan History >>
Mayan Art was very impressive and used complexed designs, Mayan Art such as Stone Sculpting, Wood Carving & Stucco Modelling was popular Read more about the Mayan Art >>
Essential features of the Mayan calendar were laid down as early as 5th century BC Read more about the Mayan Calendar >>
Mayan civilisation had a rich culture and a hierarchical society where rights and privileges of the people depended on their social status Read more about the Mayan Clothing >>
Mayans were very advanced for their time, they had an efficient hieroglyphic writing system, advanced calendar, knowledge of astronomy and mathematics Read more about the Mayan Facts >>
Mayans were an agrarian society, so the food demands of the society at large depended heavily on the agricultural they produced Read more about the Mayan Food >>
Games were a very important part of the Mayan culture and often had religious significance, they were accompanied by rituals and religious practices Read more about the Mayan Games >>
Mayan languages are the multiple languages spoken in the Mesoamerican region which came from the ancient proto-Mayan language Read more about the Mayan Languages >>
Mayan Civilisation thrived in the Yucatan Peninsula particularly during their classic period which extended from 250AD to 900AD Read more about the Mayan Mythology >>
Mayan Civilisation was the most important civilisation of Mesoamerican region and had a lasting impact on the peoples from different cultures Read more about the Mayan Names >>
Mayan people had a developed social system which comprised of different classes of people and specific activities designated for each class Read more about the Mayan People >>
Mayan religion was a set of polytheistic beliefs and more than 150 gods and goddesses were worshipped in the Mayan pantheon Read more about the Mayan Religion >>
Mayan Civilisation was one of the most developed and longest living Mesoamerican civilizations. The civilization continued to flourish for more than 3000 years and created rich culture, art, architecture, and a complex society.
The Maya Civilization mainly developed in the area that comprises of present day south eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and western parts of Honduras and El Salvador.
The Mayans were known for their powerful economy, thriving cities, fully developed writing script, impressive architecture, and artistic achievements. The ruler of the Mayans, just like other Mesoamerican civilizations, was the ultimate authority on the land and was often considered having descended from the gods.
The decline of the Mayan civilisation was gradual due to a multitude of reasons such as drought, deforestation, wars, and climate change. The final blow came with the Spanish invasion that resulted in the conquest of the Mayans. However, the culture of the Mayans lives on to this day.
The History of the Mayans can be traced back to pre-historic times with 8000BC to 2000BC considered the archaic period.
During the archaic period, the Mayans made their first settlements and preliminary advancements in agriculture.
The classic period is again divided into early, late, and terminal classic periods. These three eras of the classic period extended from 250AD to 550AD, 550AD to 830AD, and 830AD to 950AD respectively.
Finally, the post-classic period is divided into early and late post-classic periods, with the early post-classic period extending from 950AD to 1200AD while the late post-classic period started from 1200AD and ending in 1539AD.
It was followed by the period of contact with the Spanish invaders, which is generally considered from 1511AD to 1697AD.
The First real agricultural settlements of the Mayans began around 1800BC in the Pacific Coast. These agricultural settlements cultivated crops like maize, beans, squash, and chili pepper.
From 1000BC onwards, small villages began to assume the form of towns which continued to develop until around 500BC, cities had formed with large temple structures. Among these, Nakbe is one of the most important Mayan sites where the large temples with impressive architecture dates to 750BC.
By the 3rd century BC, Mayans had developed a fully equipped writing system.
One of the first major cities of the Mayans was El Mirador which was about 16 square kilometers in size and had paved avenues, massive pyramids, and altars.
Similarly, the City of Tikal was a well developed urban center from around 350BC. Some of the urban centers were abandoned just before the late pre-classical period for unknown reasons. During the late pre-classic period, the main center of activity was Kaminaljuyu.
During the classic period from 250AD to 900AD, Mayans developed impressive architecture and art. This was also the peak period of large-scale construction and urban development.
The Mayan civilization during this period consisted of several independent city-states. After 900AD, the gradual decline of the Mayans began and the period is known as the post-classic period.
Ancient Mayan Capital City Tikal was one of the most important urban centers of the Mayans and served as the capital of the Mayan civilizations during the classic period which extended from 200AD to 900AD.
During this time, it was the most powerful city of the Mayan region in terms of economic, political, and military power. The city covered an area of about 16 square kilometres and consisted of a variety of impressive structures and buildings.
The ruins of tikal city are located in the rain forests of northern Guatemala.
The city dominated the east-west trade route across the Yucatan Peninsula. It did not have access to clean water and thus water was collected from rainwater and stored in ten reservoirs.
The population of the city grew rapidly during the late classic period, with its upper estimate going to as much as 90,000 inhabitants. After 830AD, the population began to decline and the decline became sharper with time.
Tikal was ruled by a dynasty that had established its rule as early as 1st century AD with Yax Ehb’ Xook being the founder and the first ruler of the dynasty.
Tikal was conquered by another city-state of the Mexican Valley, Teotihuacan, in 378AD and this brought about a change in the dynasty after the 14th king of Tikal Chak Tok Ich’aak was killed in the invasion.
Throughout the classic period, grand structures of architecture were built in the city. During the 9th century AD, the classic Mayan civilization saw a rapid collapse across the region with declining populations and abandoned cities. Overpopulation and agrarian failure are considered two important causes of the collapse of the Mayan City of Tikal.
The Mayan calendar is a collection of multiple calendars that were in use throughout the Mesoamerican civilizations. The system of the Mayan calendar can be dated back to about 500BC and it shared many aspects with calendars used by previous and contemporary civilizations including Zapotec, Olmec, and others.
The calendar is still used among some modern day communities of the Mayans. According to Mayan mythology, the god Itzamna brought the knowledge of the calendar system to the ancestral Maya along with other foundational features of the Mayan culture.
The Mayan calendar consists of multiple cycles of different lengths. The 260-day count is called Tzolkin while the 365-day solar year is called Haab. Together, these two cycles form a synchronized cycle lasting for 52 years which is known as the Calendar Round.
This is quite similar to the Calendar Round of the Aztecs, with the difference that the latter developed and adapted it according to their own religion and culture.
The sacred calendar of Tzolkin has twenty day names with the thirteen day numbers. This is similar to the Aztec sacred calendar Tonalpohualli, although the symbols used for days are different on both.
The 365-day solar calendar, on the other hand, consists of eighteen months of twenty days each, with a separate period of five days. Its Aztec equivalent is the Xiuphohualli.
The separate five days at the end of the solar calendar were considered an ominous period during which ill-intending gods could unleash various disasters. To ward off this possibility of disasters, the Mayans avoided leaving their homes during these five days.
Just like other Mesoamerican societies, the Mayan society can be broadly classified into two main classes of the elite and the commoners. Mayans houses and homes varied according to the class.
Most of the population comprised of the commoners who lived with the families. They mainly constructed their houses out of perishable goods including trees, mud, and grass. Mud was used to construct the walls of Mayan homes for the commoners.
The top of the house, on the other hand, was generally covered with grass or tree branches in order to prevent rain from entering the house. The house mostly consisted of one large room and it was common to decorate the front wall using lime for whitewash. In rare cases, stone foundations were used for houses.
The elite held the political power and lived in the center of the city. They built larger homes and used better materials for construction of these homes. Stone was the predominant material used for walls and roof and it was common to build the homes on raised platforms.
One way to prevent damage was the use of vaulted masonry which made it hard for the enemy to destroy the house.
Mayan Architecture was one of the most impressive features of Mayan culture and civilization. Mayan architecture grew and expanded over thousands of years and reached its peak during the classic period.
At the heart of the cities, the Mayans constructed large plazas which were surrounded by most important government and religious buildings with impressive architecture. For the construction of large stone buildings, they used platform sub-structures which varied in height from less than a meter to as much as 45 meters.
Repeated arches were used in the temples for the construction of sweatbaths such as those found in the Temple of the Cross. The architecture of Mayan palaces was grand and impressive. The palace consisted of many chambers on different levels and was elaborately decorated.
The pyramid structures at the top of which the temples were built could sometimes reach the height of 200 feet.
An example of a temple built at such as height is the temple at El Mirador which is located in the north of the modern day Guatemala. Initially, starting from about 800BC, the temples were used as burial monuments but this purpose declined with the passage of time.
These burial monuments evolved into terraced, pyramid shapes in the era between 400BC and 250AD. One of the most important examples of the grand Mayan temples built on the top of the pyramid is Lamanai, located in northern Belize.
This temple was once surrounded by a thriving urban center which was eventually abandoned and became covered by forest.
This famous temple is 33 meters in height and is one of the most important Mayan temples built on the top of a pyramid.
These Mayan temples and pyramids continue to reflect the grandeur of Mayan architecture.
Mayan civilization was extended over several thousand years and thus Mayan ruins are abundantly present in the religion of Central America. Most of these Mayan ruins exist in the present day Mexico and Guatemala.
One of the most important Mayan ruins is Becan which was a major Mayan urban center occupied throughout the classic period and abandoned around 900AD.
Dated monuments were erected in Calakmul until the 10th century AD, after which the city was abandoned.
Another one of the largest classical Mayan cities was Seibal which was located in the Pasion River region. The city reached its peak during the late pre-classic period but managed to survive until the end of the classic period.
Other important sites of Mayan ruins include Chichen Itza which was an important city during the late classic and early post-classic periods, the site of Coba which thrived during the late classic and early post-classic periods, Dos Pilas which was founded by the Tikal dynasty and dates to the last classic period, and others.
The Mayans followed a polytheistic religion where many god and goddesses were worshiped and different kinds of mayan sacrifice were offered for them. Religion was quite important in Mayan society and rulers were considered the descendants of gods.
One of the most important Mayan gods was Chac who was the god of rain and thunder and also the god of fertility and agriculture. Chac was sometimes taken as a single god and other times he was considered 4 separate gods associated with 4 cardinal directions.
These 4 gods were Red Chac of East, White Chac of North, Black Chac of West, and Yellow Chac of East. Artistic depictions represent him as an old man with reptilian or amphibian features.
Another important Mayan god was the sun god, Kinich Ahau, who was also the patron god of the city of Itzamal. He is represented with jaguar-like features and was sometimes also known as Ah Xoc Kin.
Mayan religion was a rich collection of rituals, astronomy, and nature worship. Most of the gods in the Mayan pantheon represented a certain aspect of nature and had power over it.
Mayans built elaborate astronomical buildings and developed sophisticated calendar system for religious rituals. A variety of mayan rituals were offered to Mayan gods which included human sacrifice. While royalty was considered having descended from gods, this concept also came at a price.
Thus sacrifice of the members of royalty was particularly important in Mayan religion, either in the form of bloodletting or human sacrifice of the captured members of royalty from the enemy city.
According to the creation myth of Mayan religion, the gods created the humans on earth but the humans had powers similar to gods. The gods then became afraid of their creation and destroyed them to create a new race of humans with limited powers.
Mayans believed that dead people went to the underworld and only mortals who survived this fate were those who died in the childbirth or were sacrificed.
Another important belief in Mayan religion was that every person had an animal companion which they called “Wayob”. Further, a person could be transformed into his or her animal companion.
Unlike the later Aztecs, the Mayans developed a fully functional written script. The Mayan writings were found in the form of glyphs or hieroglyphs and the earliest inscriptions which have been identified as Mayan are from the 3rd century BC.
The Mayans used a variety of logograms in addition to a set of syllabic glyphs. This was quite similar in function to modern Japanese. Various texts were written in the Mayan language during the classic period of Mayan Civilization.
The language spoken most widely among the Mayan elites was called the Ch’olti’ although various other languages were also spoken. Mayan writing was mostly written in the form of columns of two glyphs, read from left to write and top to bottom.
Glyphs were mostly logographic and were used as phonetic elements with logograms representing words that were themselves single syllables.
Mayan writing made use of hundreds of unique glyphs of humans, animals, supernatural objects, and other objects of nature. This vast collection of objects used for Mayan writing made it quite a complex language.
Scholars generally believe that the speakers of the Ch’olti’ and Tzeltalan languages invented the Mayan writing system.
Mayans also had their own numerical system which used 20 as it base.
The Mayans had developed their own number system which used 20 as its base. The numerals were essentially made of three symbols of zero, one, and five.
A shell shape was used to represent zero while one and five were represented with a dot and a bar respectively.
Simple bars and dots were used for numbers up to 19 after which they were written vertically in powers of 20. – for instance, 33 would be represented as one dot above 3 three which in turn would be above two bars.
Other than the use of bar and dot notations, the Mayans also made use of face type glyphs or pictures to illustrate the numerals. In the form of glyphs, each numeral was represented with a deity associated with that numeral. However, the glyphs were not frequently used and mostly the dot and bar symbols were employed.
These same symbols were also use for adding and subtracting of numbers. Thus, for instance, the addition of 5 and 8 would be the addition of a bar with another bar with three dots. This would result in 13 represented as two bars and three dots. Zero was required as placeholder and the symbol of shell glyph was used to represent it.
The same number system is used in the Mayan calendar system for the calculation of both sacred and solar calendars.
Mayans used a variety of glyphs for their language and there were hundreds of such glyphs in the form of animals, humans, supernatural beings, and beings of nature.
These glyphs were associated with different alphabets and numbers. Mayans glyphs were either in the form of logograms, which were used to express meaning, or syllabograms, which were used to denote sound values.
A very important form of Mayan glyphs was the “emblem glyph” which is a kind of royal glyph. There were nearly 800 signs or glyphs with each representing a full syllable.
Mayan writing was written in columns of two blocks where glyphs were arranged top-to-bottom and left-to-right. For instance, consider the example of the Mayan word for jaguar, b’alam.
There were two different ways of writing this word in the Mayan script. In the first one, logogram was used for representation of the entire word using a single glyph b’alam.
The second method phonetically used the three syllable signs b’a, la, and ma. Mayans also used glyphs in their sacred and solar calendars for representing the days and their signs.
There were mostly different names for Mayan males and females, although sometimes same name could be used for member of both sexes.
The names almost always had specific meaning attached to them which either referred to some aspect of nature or represented some feature of the person who was being named.
Sometimes it also meant a quality that the parents of the child wished to see in their mayan children.
iAapo – meaning =“father of many nations”
Aaron – meaning =“mountain of strength”
Achim – meaning =“constructed by god”
Gabe – meaning =“god’s bravest man”
Gage – meaning =“in charge of weights and measures”
Icarus – meaning =“follower”
Ignacio – meaning =”fire”
Zaan – meaning = “from near the Zaan river”
Zakai – meaning “pure, clean, or blameless,”
Abarrane – meaning =“mother of multitude”
Abha – meaning =“brightness”
Abi – meaning =“my father’s delight”
Pakpao – meaning =“flying a kite”
Palma – meaning =“palm tree”
Pam – meaning =“all sweetness”
Ubon – meaning =“lotus flower”
Ula – meaning =“strong as a little bear”
Ulrika – meaning =“powerful and prosperous”
Abbey – meaning =“intelligent and beautiful”
Abijah – meaning =“god is my father”
Paithoon – meaning =“cat’s eye”
Uk – meaning =“sunrise”
The most important Mayan city was Tikal which was also the most powerful city of the Mayan kingdom. At its peak during the classic period, the population of Tikal was as much as 90,000.
The dynastic line of Tikal was founded in the 1st century AD, with Yax Ehb’ Xook being the first ruler.
Becan was another major Mayan city which was founded in the middle pre-classic period and remained inhabited throughout the classic period. It was finally abandoned around 900AD, at the end of the classic period.
Among the major Mayan cities from the classic period, Calakmul is noteworthy which at its peak was almost as powerful as Tikal. This city was also founded during the late pre-classic period and continued to flourish throughout the classic period.
Mayan city of Ixkun is known for having one of the tallest stone monuments in the Peten Basin. The main activity in this Mayan city was seen during the late classic period, although it continued to exist during the post-classic period as well.
Some other important Maya cities include Dos Pilas from the late classic period which was founded by an offshoot of the Tikal dynasty, Coba which had a network of 16 causeways connecting it with the neighbouring sites.
Mayapan which was also an important fortified city during the post-classic period, Nakbe which flourished during the middle pre-classic period, and others.
Some Mayan cities were occupied at the time of the Spanish Conquest. This included Tulum which was situated on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea and had architecture similar to bigger cities of Chichen Itza and Mayapan.
Mayan Civilization was the most magnificent civilization in the Mesoamerican region and also the longest living civilization. Its growth, flourishing, and gradual decline are divided into various period such as pre-classic period, classic period, and post-classic period.
During the pre-classic period, which extended from 2000BC to 250AD, the Mayans had developed agricultural methods and also established their towns. It was during this period that the foundations of the Mayan civilizations were laid down.
But the peak of Mayan civilization was seen during the classic period when the Mayans founded large urban centers and produced rich art and architecture which influenced the future civilizations such as the Aztecs.
It was also during the classic period of the Mayan civilizations that large-scale construction, recording of monumental inscriptions, and significant intellectual developments took place, particularly in the southern lowland regions.
During this period, extensive system of alliances and enmities existed between different city-states of the Mayan civilization and wars became common.
The classic period of the Mayan civilization ended around 900AD. Around this time, many Mayan cities were abandoned and there was a clear northward shift in activity.
Various causes have been attributed to this decline of the Mayan civilization. These causes include endemic wars, overpopulation causing environmental degradation, and droughts. Mayan civilization continued to exist after the classic period, although it lost its grandeur.
The pyramids often consisted of burials in their base with sanctuaries at the top.
Mayan art included various kinds of stone sculptures such as stelas which were elongated stone slabs covered with carvings and inscriptions, altars of multiple shapes, zoomorphs which were large boulders sculpted to resemble living creatures, ball court markers, monumental stairs, and thrones.
Artistic and sophisticated wood carvings were an important part of Mayan art, although most of the wood carvings were destroyed by the Spaniards during the 16th century because they considered it idolatry and thus only a few examples survive.
A very important part of Mayan art was stucco modeling which made use of various techniques and was used as cover for the floors and walls of the town centers or provided setting for the stone sculptures.
New developments were made in stucco modeling during the classic period and it expanded to include realistic portraits of very high quality. This stucco modeling was not different from the Roman ancestral portraits.
One of the most famous of these stucco models is the portrait of king Pakal. Mural paintings were also part of Aztec art during the classic period, although not many of them have survived because of the humid climate of Central America.
Over the course of many centuries, the Mayans produced some very impressive works of art. Although most of these Mayan artifacts were lost due to wars and other reasons, some of them have come down to us and give a general idea about the impressive nature of Mayan art.
One of the most popular examples of Mayan artifacts is the Eccentric Flint which is an elite chipped artifact having an irregular shape. Materials used for making these Mayan artifacts included chert, chalcedony, and obsidian.
Production of these artifacts required considerable skills. Although these artifacts were found in a variety of forms, the most common forms were those of humans, animals, and geometric forms.
The ‘Teotihuacan-style ‘war serpent’, the wood carving of a victorious king dressed as an ancestral death god in Tikal Temple IV, and a king wearing a jaguar dress standing in front of his seal in Temple III.
In stucco modeling, the most famous Mayan artifact is easily the stucco portrait of Mayan King Pakal.
The Mayans made close observations of the heavenly bodies in order to record the dates of the movement of heavenly bodies in detail. However, these observations were not undertaken from a scientific point of view or to predict the behavior of weather for crop cultivation.
Instead, the astronomical observations were used by priests in order to comprehend the past cycles of time and use them for future prophecies. Thus the priests recorded in details the eclipses of sun and the moon along with the movements of Venus and stars.
The new data was measured against the past data in order to ensure that the cycles would continue well into the future. Various Mayan codices show the priests making astronomical observations with the naked eye other than the use of crossed sticks and a sighting device.
Mayans used this knowledge for the development of detailed eclipse tables and calendars which in some cases were more accurate than those found in Europe at the same time.
For instance, the 548-day Venus cycle was measured by the Mayans with an error of only two hours.
They also recorded the movements of other planets including Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury. According to Mayan religious beliefs, solar and lunar eclipses were dangerous events and could result in catastrophe.
A Mayan codex represents solar eclipse with a serpent devouring the symbol for day, k’in. Various ceremonies and rituals were performed in order to ward off the disasters associated with these events.
The Mayans made use of a variety of materials to produce a diverse range of outfits which were used for different occasions and events. Other than the everyday clothing, there were different costumes for sporting events, battles, religious ceremonies, and other public events.
In everyday life, the clothing included a loincloth with a short skirt for men and a long one for women. Various precious materials such as bracelets, anklets, necklaces, and other forms of jewelry were commonly used with clothes.
During public events, which were mainly for performance of rituals or other ceremonial duties, large and lavish outfits were used by the ruling elite which reflected their position in society.
This clothing was often made from the skin of jaguars and was used along with other components such as elaborate headdresses and jade jewelry. Elaborate costumes were also used for dancing events. These costumes included large back racks with long feathers and headdresses.
The dancing costumes were designed to be light enough to move around easily. Special kinds of protective costumes were also used during battles. This included a padded mantle made from twisted cotton or thick leaves and covered with animal skin. They also used shields decorated with animal hide or feathers.
Mayan culture was one of the richest Mesoamerican cultures that flourished over the span of about 3000 years.
The Mayans were mainly concentrated in the Yucatan Peninsula and at the peak of their culture during the classic period they inhabited many thriving urban centers which traded with one and other.
The Mayan culture was marked with sophisticated and impressive advancements in arts, architecture, astronomy, and other domains.
Mayan culture was also rich in art and sculpture and they developed a wide variety of artifacts most of which, however, were lost because of constant wars in the region and the later Spanish invasion.
The artistic achievements of Mayans included stone sculpture, mural paintings, stucco modeling, and other aspects. Mayan culture had rich mythology and the people followed a polytheistic religion where many gods and goddesses were worshiped, related to different aspects of nature through the Mayan mythology.
The society was divided into the elite ruling class and the commoners, with the ruling class enjoying considerable privileges over the common people.
Four most important components of the Mayan food were maize, beans, squash, and chili peppers. Maize was the most important component of them all and was also considered sacred by the Mayans. It was prepared and eaten in a variety of ways.
A common way was grounding it into flour and make breads which were eaten with other food items such as meat and beans etc. Ground maize was often also mixed with water to prepare liquid base gruel-like dishes such as “atole” and “pozole”.
Chili peppers, cocoa, wild onions, and salt were added to flavor the diet. Mayan food also included various kinds of meats which were provided by hunting. This included the meat of such animals as deer, tapir, guinea pig and others. Ground up cocoa beans mixed with chili peppers, honey, and cornmeal formed a drink which was consumed mainly by rich Mayans.