Mayans were a fairly advanced civilization who managed to live and survive in a rain forest for thousands of years. Although the rain forest climate had many adverse circumstances, the Mayans innovated creatively to adapt to it and ensure their survival for a very long time.
They invented a number of tools, technologies and other contraptions. These are comprehensively referred to as Mayan technology. This technology included agricultural innovations, original materials created for use in monumental structures, well-crafted tools for various purposes, bridges and arches and excellent urban systems.
By using all these technologies, Mayans established and heavily populated cities in an age when large cities were non-existent in most other parts of the world.
Mayan Astronomy was very important in Mayan Society and the Mayans constructed observatories to study the night sky. Read more about the Mayan Astronomy >>
Mayan civilization was one of the most advanced civilizations of its time. Mayans came up with a number of indigenous inventions which were unique Read more about the Mayan Inventions >>
The Mayans were very intelligent people and they developed a number system that was very advanced, easy to use and neat to look at Read more about the Mayan Numbers >>
Mayans relied heavily on their annual agricultural produce in order to meet their food needs. The region Mayans lived in wasn’t exactly hospitable to agriculture and so, Mayans undertook many innovations in order to grow the sufficient amount of crops they needed. They did this through a combination of using cultivars, making use of techniques which rendered the soil more fertile and effectively utilising rain water. In hilly areas, Mayans created large terraces for terrace farming. With the help of all these measures, Mayans were able to grow food enough for populations as huge as 250,000 people in some cities.
Closely tied with the Mayan agricultural innovations was the Mayan water management system. Rainfall in Mayan regions was unpredictable and in a year with low rainfall, Mayans had to face food shortages. They resolved this problem by creating underground stone reservoirs. The reservoirs were located in such a place and built in such a manner that water during rainfall directly reached them. The reservoirs were lined with limestone which prevented any water seepage. In years when the rainfall was low and the crops didn’t have enough water for harvesting, Mayans would use the water from these reservoirs. Such efficient water management critically helped Mayans to survive in the tropical rainforest humid environment.
Mayans didn’t have many of the useful tools which were discovered fairly early in other parts of the world, such as the wheel. However, they did craft excellent tools from materials naturally found in the Mayan lands. These included very sharp tools made from obsidian. They also used tools using jade, even when jade was considered a valuable material for jewelry. Jade tools were used by artisans for their exceptional hardness. Among the tools commonly used by the Mayan artists were stonecutters, sculptors, gouges, chisels, axes and hoes. It was with the help of these fairly basic tools that Mayans were able to prop up huge monumental architectures.
Many Mayan cities were located near rivers and other water bodies. They usually needed to be able to cross these water bodies and constructed excellent bridges to do so. Despite the lack of any previous tradition of bridges and bridge construction in Mesoamerica, Mayans came up with their own ideas, design and construction patterns all on their own. They built bridges on top of canals, rivers and moats. The city of Yaxchilan had a very advanced, three-span suspension bridge which was erected at height of 22 metres above the water level of the river. According to modern scholars, it was the longest bridge in the ancient world, having been constructed in the 7th century.
Mayans were fairly advanced in their engineering prowess. They came up with many different types of mortar which helped them construct very strong, long-lasting structures. Mayans also invented a sort of cement on their own. It was with the help of this highly strong mortar that Mayans were able to construct their huge monumental structures. With the help of this mortar, the structures were strong enough to withstand attacks, earthquakes and could last for a period of more than a thousand years. Mayans used this cement in their buildings, bridges and roads.
Mayan roads, called sacbe, were a marvel of Mayan technology. The sacbe were built between different Mayan cities, helping the travellers and merchants in journeying along the route. The roads were made of concrete, raised above the bed of the surrounding region and were as wide as 10 metres. The roads had a mortar-joined stone foundation on top of which cast-in-place concrete was laid. They were topped with limestone to give them a white outlook. Finally, a side wall of stone masonry was propped to keep the structure in place. So well-built were these Mayan roads that many of them are still extant today.
Mayans were very well-versed in astronomical sciences. They accurately observed celestial movements and had special observatories for this purpose. By utilising their extensive astronomical knowledge, Mayans were able to create a very detailed calendar. The Mayan calendar remains the most accurate calendar created in the ancient world. It consisted of three parallel cycles: the sacred system, the secular system and the Long Count. Long Count was used to measure very long periods of time, each Long Count cycle being 5139 solar years.
Mayans invented not only a written language of their own but also an elaborate mathematical system. Mayans also had a concept of zero at a time when many other contemporary civilisations in the world were unfamiliar with it. In the Mayan system, a single digit was represented by a dot, the zero was represented by a shell and a line depicted 5. For advanced computations, Mayans used a base-20 system to denote larger numbers. Along with astronomy, mathematical knowledge also played an important role in helping the Maya develop their calendar.
Mayans lived in an inhospitable tropical environment for thousands of years and carved out a civilisation despite the adverse circumstances. They were able to do so by being excellent innovators and inventors, concocting many technologies on their own to resolve their problems. These included agricultural innovations, creation of elaborate water storage systems, urban planning in the cities, use of tools made out of jade and obsidian, highly advanced mathematics and astronomy, and an incredibly accurate calendric system. They also used inventions such as cement and limestone in construction which helped them build long-lasting architecture.