We often get asked by visitors to the site many questions about the Mayans and Mayan Civilization, so we decided to set up a page that answers all you email questions!
The Mayans were the indigenous people who emerged in the regions of present day countries of Belize, Guatemala, and some parts of Mexico. The exact origins of these people remains unknown and different theories are put forward to explain them. In this region, according to archaeological evidence, the Mayans had started to develop agricultural practices around 3,000BC. These along with other developments, took place in what is known as the Early Pre-Classic Period between 2,000BC and 1,000BC.
Different theories are put forward to explain where the Mayans came from and who they were. Two theories are popular in this regard. According to the first one, the ancient Mayan culture developed independently without any external influences. The second theory gives evidence that Mayans were an offshoot of an early civilisation in the same region: The Olmecs. The Olmecs were the people who emerged in the region around 3,600BC. A lot of aspects of the Olmecs civilisation went on to influence the Mayans.
The Mayans lived in the different regions in and around the Yucatan peninsula during different periods of their civilisations. For instance, one of the earliest known settlements of the Mayans was Nakbe in the Peten region of Guatemala. Mayans settlements existed here during the Middle Pre-Classic Period of the Mayans. One of the first major urban settlements of the Mayans was El Mirandor which around the 3rd century BC had already grown to approximately 16 square kilometres. Another major settlement was Tikal which emerged around the same time.
The main areas where the Mayans were located encompassed the southeastern areas of Mexico and all of Guatemala and Belize. Additionally, they were also located in some areas of present day Honduras and El Salvador. In other words, they were located mainly in the lowlands of the Yucatan Peninsula and the highlands of Sierra Madre. They developed powerful city states during the Classic Period (250AD-900AD) in the Mayan lowlands. The two most powerful cities were Tikal and Calakmul.
Travel was common between different Mayan city states and for this purpose the Mayans had constructed a system of roads. Their ceremonial centres are also thought to have been connected via roads, although the exact extent of this network of roads is not known since most of them have been destroyed by the growth of vegetation and modernisation. The roads made by Mayans were called “sacbeobs” and they were raised from 2 to 4 feet above ground level. According to some historians, Mayans’ longest roads could be as much as 100 kilometres.
The Mayans, just like other Mesoamerican cultures, had a polytheistic belief system in which they worshipped many gods. They believed that the world and the heavens were ruled by different gods who interacted with each other like humans. They also believed that humans, after dying, went to the underworld which was ruled by multiple gods. Mayans offered different kinds of sacrifices to the gods including human sacrifice. They erected grand pyramids and temples for the worship of different gods.
Mayan civilisation was extended over three thousand years and they performed a lot of accomplishments during this period, particularly during their Classic Period from 250AD to 900AD. Other than building grand pyramids and temples, they made impressive advancements in arts and sculpture. They also independently developed a language and a number system that used base 5 within base 20. Their rich art, architecture, and religious practices influenced the latter cultures, particularly the Aztecs.
The most important food ingredients of the Mayans was maize, squash, and beans. Maize was the most important of these and had a sacred status among the Mayans. It could be eaten in a variety of ways by grounding it and mixing it with various other things. Beans commonly included pinto, red, and black beans. Other important components of the Mayan diet included chili peppers, tomato, breadnut, guava, mammee apple, papaya, and others. They also ate meat of various animals including fish, turtle, deer, tapir, and others.
The Mayans made a variety of impressive inventions particularly during the Classic Period. For instance, they invented a peculiar system of writing that made use of logograms and glyphs. They also invented an efficient number system. They independently developed a system of astronomy which, however, was used almost exclusively for religious purposes. Other inventions of the Mayans include Mayan headdresses, Mayan Stelas and Mayan system of water reservoirs etc.
In everyday life, Mayans usually went about in simple clothes but more elaborate costumes were used for ceremonies and dancing. The ruling elite particularly made use of decorations such as elaborate headdresses, jade jewelry, and clothing made from animal skin. Everyday clothing of the common people consisted of a loincloth used in conjunction with a short skirt for men and a long skirt for women.
The Mayan civilisation reached its peak during the Late Classic Period after which is abruptly collapsed. There are signs of Mayan cities being abandoned due to mysterious reasons. The reasons put forward for this collapse are multiple. One of the most important reasons was the constant warfare between different city states which caused the destruction of some of the largest city states, such as Tikal. Thus different reasons contributed to the collapse of the Mayan civilisation.
Historians and archaeologists have put forward several possible reasons for the collapse of the Mayan civilisation after 900AD, although none of the reasons can be claimed as being absolute fact. Some of the commonly accepted reasons for the collapse of the Mayan civilisation include constant warfare between different city states, overpopulation and consequent lack of resources, drought, and changing weather conditions. It is possible that all of these conditions played their role in the collapse of the Mayan civilisation.
Mayans were a group of people who lived in and around the Yucatan Peninsula for thousands of years. They developed an impressive civilisation which reached its peak during the Classic Period from 250AD to 900AD. Mayans had a fully developed writing system as well as an independently developed number system. They built impressive pyramids and temples and created fine art and sculptures. After 900AD, the civilisation collapsed due to various reasons such as epidemics, warfare, overpopulation, and changing weather conditions. Mayan culture survived the collapse of the ancient civilisations and continues to exist till today.