Mayans constructed their shelters from a very practical standpoint. The dwellings of the commoners simply met their everyday needs, without any extra embellishments or adornments. The shelters of the common families comprised of a simply hut with no internal partitions and were surrounded by relevant spaces such as a kitchen garden.
The shelters of the rich nobility were more elaborate, sometimes as lavish as palatial structural built with stone and adorned with carvings on the exterior. Extant Mayan architecture has examples of the shelters of the nobility although no extant remains are available of the commoner shelters.
The shelters of the commoners were designed in such a way as to include all the basic facilities. A typical families shelter, for instance, spanned over a small demarcated piece of land. On this family-owned plot, the members of the family had one or more homes built in the style of huts with thatched roofs, and other spaces such as a cemetery, a well, a chicken coup, latrine, kitchen garden and a cooking area.
In this way, the shelter of a given family was very comprehensive. Members of the same extended family dwelled in the same shelter. In contrast, the shelters of the nobility were designed to be durable, using stone masonry in the structure. These structures could withstand fire, enemy attacks and any other damages over long periods of time.
The shelters of a given nobility family also clustered together, although they were located around a sizable courtyard and had independent facilities in each of the houses.
The construction of a commoner shelter was done using packed mud in the walls. Packed mud had the advantage of warding off heat in the summer and cold in the winter. The upper part of these huts used many beams which were then topped with leaves as roof coverings.
The house of the nobility were constructed using more durable material. Stone was used as the basic unit of construction while limestone mortar was used to keep the structure in place. The shelters of the nobility were usually constructed around a large courtyard, in contrast to the small private kitchen garden of the commoner families.
Although the shelter of a common Mayan person wasnt very durable, it was built quite solidly. First a foundation of gravel was laid down at the bottom of the structure. This foundation was topped with white packed soil. Some commoner housed had floors made from wood, although this was very rare.
The walls of the huts were built using a wood matrix which was finally smoothed over with adobe. In some cases, lime was used to whiten the walls to give them a neater look.
The materials used in the shelters of the commoner Mayans was cheaper and not very durable. It usually included wood, packed mud and gravel. The houses of the commoners werent meant to last very long and in external attacks or fires, they were the earliest city structures to get demolished.
In contrast, the key building material used in the construction of the houses of the nobility was stone. This stone was hauled from quarries situated outside Mayan cities, taken back to the city, sculpted by stone masons and then used in the construction of the houses. A special lime-based mortar and other adhesive materials were also used in the construction of Mayan nobilitys shelters, which is why some of them exist to this day.
Mayan commoners made use of little, if any, exterior decorations. Among the scant few decorative elements used in commoner shelter was lime which was sort of painted across the face of the house-fronts. The decorative factor was more pronounced in the exterior of the nobilitys shelters. Here, stone carvings were a frequent way of embellishing the exterior of the boundary walls. Combed roofs were another notable decorative structure. The exterior decorations of nobilitys shelters was considered a sign of prestige and higher social standing.
The interior of the common shelters were scarcely furnished. In some cases, the interior of the thatched huts were partitioned to convert the single-roomed space into more divisions. The only furnishing prevalent in the commoner shelters were pottery wares commonly used in cooking and eating food.
The interior of the shelters of the nobility were more richly furnished. These shelters contained more extensive range of pottery for use, art pieces such as ceramics and other adornments which didn’t serve any direct use but were used as decorations.
A very notable feature of the shelters of the Mayan nobility were the bath houses. The houses of the nobility were constructed so that they contained a bath houses constructed in a very creative way. It was built so that a slit in the roof rinsed the sunlight directly on a large stone. When the stone had heated up to a very high temperature, water was poured on it which produced steam. The Mayan nobility used this method to take steam baths which were considered healthy and of religious significance.
It was a common practice among common Mayan households to bury their ancestors under the floors of their shelters. This was done because Mayans believed that the ancestors could hear their problems after death and could mediate with the gods on their behalf. Different household items were also buried alongside the ancestors at the time of their burial. The practice was limited to the commoners while the nobility buried its ancestors in specially constructed tombs.
Mayan society had two notable types of shelters. One of these were the shelters of the commoners which comprised of thatched-roofed huts, small kitchen gardens and the dwellings of all members of the extended family on the same family plot. The shelters of the commoners were not very durable and were built with inexpensive materials. The shelters of the nobility, on the other hand, were constructed with stone and more magnificently built. They were meant to be durable and hosted facilities such as steam baths.