Once upon a time, there was a group of people called the Mayas. The Mayas had an amazing culture. Back in their heyday, they controlled a large part of Central America. Their lands included present-day Belize and Guatemala. It covered a portion of Mexico, too.
2 The Mayas began to move into Central America as early as 1500 B.C. At first, they only had small villages. But over time, they started to build big cities. A Mayan city was like a small kingdom. Because it had its own rulers, we call it a city-state. Every Mayan city-state shared the same religion. Its people used the same written language. They followed the same calendars. And they designed their city-states the same way. For example, a typical Mayan city-state would have at least one plaza, one temple, and one ball court. Most of the buildings were made out of stones. Some of them even looked like pyramids!
3 Often times, the Mayas from different city-states would trade with each other. But their main activity was still farming. The Mayas grew a lot of things, like corn, beans, and squash. They liked to use a farming technique called "slash-and-burn." This involved cutting down all the trees in a field and setting them on fire. Once the area was cleared, the Mayas then planted their crops. When using this method, they usually would not bother digging canals for irrigation. They would simply let nature take care of everything.
4 The Mayas were very sophisticated people. They used picture-like symbols to record their thoughts and discoveries. Through their writings, we knew that they were fond of mathematics. We learned that they loved to observe the night sky. And we understood that they created at least two different kinds of calendars to keep track of their days. The first type of calendar had 260 days a year. It was mainly used for religious purposes. The second one had 365 days a year. It was made for planning agricultural activities.
5 The Mayan culture flourished between 250 A.D. and 900 A.D. But after that, it started to decline slowly and steadily. With more and more people moving away, most cities became abandoned. Eventually, the Mayan culture ceased to exist altogether. We are not exactly sure why the Mayas moved away. Was it because of not enough food? Or was it because of wars between city-states? Whatever the real reason was, it was lost in history. Perhaps one day, you could unlock the secret and solve the mystery!
Where was the Mayan culture?
In North America
In South America
In Central America
Which of the following about the Mayan culture is correct?
It controlled a large area in South America.
Its main activity was farming.
It flourished between 250 B.C. and 900 A.D.
It did not have a written language.
Which of the following present-day countries was not part of the lands controlled by the Mayas?
Suppose you were a Maya. Which calendar would you use if you wanted to arrange a festival for the gods?
The calendar with 365 days a year
The calendar with 260 days a year
For how long did the Mayan culture flourish?
What is "slash-and-burn"?
It is an agricultural method.
It is a hunting technique.
It is a type of weapon.
It is a type of urban design.
What kind of written languages did the Mayas use?
They used an alphabet.
They had picture-like symbols.
What would be the biggest difference between any two Mayan city-states?
They would have different leaders.
They would plant different crops.
They would design their temples differently.
One would have a ball court, but the others would not.
The Maya Civilization, Part 1
Take a look at Mexico and Central America on a map. If you use your imagination, you might see how Mexico resembles a left-handed fist with the thumb sticking up. The area around this thumb, the Yucatan Peninsula, was once part of the Maya civilization. Evidence has been found to prove that the Mayas first settled in the area thousands of years ago. It is thought that the first tribesmen crossed a land bridge in the Bering Strait from Asia.
2 Many archaeologists like to divide Maya history into three time periods. The first time period is called the Preclassic period. The Preclassic period traces the Maya as far back as evidence can be found. They are pretty sure that people have lived in the area since 10,000 BC. Villages were built around 1800 BC. By 1000 BC, the people were building temples. In 600 BC, buildings were being built that brought the people together into a city. These cities sprung up around the entire Central American region.
3 The second Maya period is called the Classic period. It lasted from approximately 250 AD to 900 AD. It was during this time that the Maya created their greatest cities. The empire was at its most powerful. The Maya government was not an empire like many others in history. There was not one central powerful city. The Mayas built city-states. Each city-state had its own royalty. Each city-state made its own laws. Each city had its own temples and monuments.
4 Agriculture and trade were important to the people in the city-states. Cacao, salt, obsidian, and jade were traded regularly among the city states.
5 A Maya leader was born to his position. Leadership was passed from father to son for many generations. Many of the monuments constructed in Mayan cities were for the glorification of their leaders. Intricate carvings adorned the walls of these monuments. Temples for religious rites and palaces for the rulers were masterpieces. What makes these buildings even more spectacular is to remember that there were no metal tools or heavy equipment at the time. Temples looked like the pyramids in Egypt. Yet Egypt was thousands of miles from the Maya land. The temples, like the pyramids were built entirely with man-power.
6 The final period in Mayan history is known as the Postclassic Period. During the 700's and 800's, the Mayan presence seemed to disappear. Scientists have debated for years as to what happened. The beautiful, well-built cities were deserted. The people scattered in small groups. Had there been a great civil war? Had disease killed large populations? Had an earthquake or hurricane driven the people from the cities? These questions have been studied for centuries.
7 Some scientists feel that a severe drought that lasted for many years may have caused the Mayan people to seek new homes. Some scientists feel that the people may have become disillusioned by their leaders and revolted against the royal families. Unfortunately, we may never know the answers to these questions. The Mayans developed their own written language. They wrote books detailing their history. When Spanish conquistadors came across the ruins of ancient Mayan civilization in the 1500's, they destroyed almost all of the books. They reasoned that a group of people like this could not be civilized. The books must be the work of the devil. Only four books written by the Mayans are still in existence.
8 The Mayan people did not completely disappear. Their organized living style did. What may have started more than 20,000 years ago with ancient tribes crossing a land bridge in the Bering Strait came to a quiet end along the Caribbean coast of Central America.
Ancestors of the Mayan people may have come from Asia.
What type of government did the Mayans have?
An elected president
A council of elders
City-states that governed themselves
One large empire ruled by a king
How did a Mayan ruler get the job?
He was elected by the people.
He was chosen by the gods.
He was the son of a ruler.
He won an athletic contest.
How was the history of the Mayan civilization lost?
What happened during the Postclassic Mayan period?
What was not mentioned as something the Mayans traded?
How many time periods is Mayan history divided into?
What did the Mayan temples resemble?
The Maya Civilization, Part 2
The people of the Maya civilization were hard workers. They must have been to have built the cities in which they lived. Each city-state had its own beauty. Each city-state had its own problems.
2 The Mayas lived in a large area. The northern boundary was roughly the Yucatan Peninsula. This is the piece of land that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico like a thumb on Mexico's northeast coast. The southern boundary lies near modern day Guatemala. In this area you would find mountains, rain forests, and flat lands. The people had to learn to live in their differing regions.
3 The forests contained many fierce animals. Jaguars, crocodiles, and poisonous snakes were dangerous enemies of anyone or anything in their way. The Mayas hunted for turkey, rabbits, and rodents in the forests. They were good sources of food. Monkeys and colorful birds could be found in the rain forests.
4 Farmers in the flat areas grew maize (corn), squash, beans, chili peppers, and cacao. They grew cotton which was used to make cloth. They grew sisal which was used to make rugs and rope. Crops couldn't grow in the mountains or highlands. In these areas, Mayas found obsidian, jade, cinnabar, and hematite that were used in trade. The metals were brought from the highlands to the lowlands and transported on the many rivers. Some of the lowlands received as much as 160 inches of rain a year. That kept the rivers full and flowing.
5 Each Mayan city-state had its own ruler. At the death of one ruler, his son became the next ruler. When a son was born to a sitting ruler, the ruler was required to draw blood from his own body and offer it to the gods. The son could not become the next ruler until he had captured an enemy. The captive was held until it was time for the new ruler to take his place as ruler. At that time, the captive was killed as a sacrifice. It is believed that this was done to assure that the gods would keep the universe going.
6 The Mayas presented two gifts to the world which have withstood time. They developed their own form of writing. This writing consisted of words and pictures. Hieroglyphs were symbols which stood for an entire word or a sound found in a word. These symbols often contained pictures which help to show action or help the reader to understand what was being said. Examples of Mayan writing can be seen today on the walls of buildings which have survived. Books written by the Mayas were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. Only four such Mayan books have survived until today. The second gift the Mayas created was a calendar. Much of today's calendar is based on what was developed by the Maya.
7 Art was important to the Mayan cities. The art came in different forms. Statues and small figurines were fashioned by artists. Pictures showing the lives of the people and their beliefs adorn the walls of monuments and temples. Clothing also became an art form. Peasants became skilled at decorating cloth in their weaving. They also used thread to sew designs onto the cloth. The color and shape of the garment helps archaeologists in deciding where the garment came from. Rulers used art to show their importance. They required artists in their city-state to create tributes to them that would last. They wanted future generations to know just how important they were.
8 Perhaps we will never know just what caused the Mayan people to abandon their elaborate homes. We are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor by visiting the ruins at Palenque and Tikal. These natives had no metal tools to work with, yet they fashioned a lasting tribute to their lifestyle which has endured for centuries.
Each Mayan city-state had its own ruler.
How would you describe Mayan writing?
Which of these did the Mayan people invent?
How did someone become ruler of a Mayan city-state?
What might you find in a Mayan rain forest?
Who or what destroyed all Mayan books?
How did the Mayans transport trade items?
On the rivers
What is the "thumb" on Mexico's east coast called?
The Gulf of Mexico
The Yucatan Peninsula
The Belt of the Maya