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An overview and a brief history of the native american maya people

Although the Maya were the most advanced pre-Columbian civilization in the hemisphere, they were never… As early as 1500 bce the Maya had settled in villages and had developed an agriculture based on the cultivation of corn maizebeansand squash ; by 600 ce cassava sweet manioc was also grown.

See also origins of agriculture: They began to build ceremonial centres, and by 200 ce these had developed into cities containing temples, pyramids, palaces, courts for playing ball, and plazas.

The ancient Maya quarried immense quantities of building stone usually limestonewhich they cut by using harder stones such as chert. They practiced mainly slash-and-burn agriculturebut they used advanced techniques of irrigation and terracing. They also developed a system of hieroglyphic writing and highly sophisticated calendrical and astronomical systems.

The Maya made paper from the inner bark of wild fig trees and wrote their hieroglyphs on books made from this paper. Those books are called codices.

The Maya also developed an elaborate and beautiful tradition of sculpture and relief carving. Architectural works and stone inscriptions and reliefs are the chief sources of knowledge about the early Maya. Early Mayan culture showed the influence of the earlier Olmec civilization. Courtesy of the Museo de America, Madrid The rise of the Maya began about 250 ce, and what is known to archaeologists as the Classic Period of Mayan culture lasted until about 900 ce.

At its height, Mayan civilization consisted of more than 40 cities, each with a population between 5,000 and 50,000. The peak Mayan population may have reached two million people, most of whom were settled in the lowlands of what is now Guatemala.

Were the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas different from the North American Indians ?

After 900 ce, however, the Classic Maya civilization declined precipitously, leaving the great cities and ceremonial centres vacant and overgrown with jungle vegetation. Some scholars have suggested that armed conflicts and the exhaustion of agricultural land were responsible for the sudden decline. Discoveries in the 21st century led scholars to posit a number of additional reasons for the destruction of Mayan civilization. One cause was probably the war-related disruption of river and land trade routes.

Other contributors may have been deforestation and drought.

Aztecs, Maya, and Inca for Kids

By the time the Spaniards conquered the area in the early 16th century, most of the Maya had become village-dwelling agriculturists who practiced the religious rites of their forebears. Mayan fresco from Bonampak, original c.

Locating the Maya

But the true nature of Mayan society, the meaning of its hieroglyphics, and the chronicle of its history remained unknown to scholars for centuries after the Spaniards discovered the ancient Mayan building sites. Mayan ruinsCaracol, an ancient Mayan archaeological site in west-central Belize. The mountain element was represented by the Mayan culture in pyramidal stone temples.

Those discoveries shed some light on Mayan religionwhich was based on a pantheon of nature gods, including those of the Sun, the Moon, rain, and corn. A priestly class was responsible for an elaborate cycle of rituals and ceremonies. Closely related to Mayan religion—indeed, inextricable from it—was the impressive development of mathematics and astronomy. In mathematics, positional notation and the use of the zero represented a pinnacle of intellectual achievement. Mayan astronomy underlay a complex calendrical system involving an accurately determined solar year 18 months of 20 days each, plus a 5-day period considered unlucky by the Mayansa sacred calendar of 260 days 13 cycles of 20 named daysand a variety of longer cycles culminating in the Long Count, a continuous marking of time, based on a zero date in 3113 bce.

Mayan astronomers compiled precise tables of positions for the Moon and Venus and were able to accurately predict solar eclipses. On the basis of these discoveries, scholars in the mid-20th century mistakenly thought that Mayan society was composed of a priestly class of peaceful stargazers and calendar keepers supported by a devout peasantry.

The Maya were thought to be utterly absorbed in their religious and cultural pursuits, in favourable contrast to the more warlike and sanguinary indigenous empires of central Mexico. But the progressive decipherment of nearly all of the Mayan hieroglyphic writing has provided a truer if less-elevating picture of Mayan society and culture.

Expert Answers

Many of the hieroglyphs depict the histories of the Mayan dynastic rulers, who waged war on rival Mayan cities and took their aristocrats captive. Those captives were then tortured, mutilated, and sacrificed to the gods. Indeed, torture and human sacrifice were fundamental religious rituals of Mayan society; they were thought to guarantee fertilitydemonstrate piety, and propitiate the gods, and, if such practices were neglected, cosmic disorder and chaos were thought to result.

The drawing of human blood was thought to nourish the gods and was thus necessary for achieving contact with them; hence, the Mayan rulers, as the intermediaries between the Mayan people and the gods, had to undergo ritual bloodletting and self-torture.

A brief history of the maya people the native americans and the spanis conquest

The king holds a flaming torch over his wife, who is pulling a thorny rope through her tongue. The chief division in Mayan cultural types is between highland and lowland cultures.

Contemporary Maya are basically agricultural, raising crops of corn, beans, and squash. They live in communities organized around central villages, which may be permanently occupied but more commonly are community centres with public buildings and houses that generally stand vacant; the people of the community live on farm homesteads except during fiestas and markets.

Dress is largely traditional, particularly for women; men are more likely to wear modern ready-made clothing. Domestic spinning and weavingonce common, are becoming rare, and most clothing is made of factory-woven cloth. Cultivation is with the hoe and, where the soil is tough, the digging stick. The Yucatec usually keep pigs and chickens and, rarely, oxen that are used for farming. Industries are few, and crafts are oriented toward domestic needs.

Usually some cash crop or item of local manufacture is produced for sale outside the region in order to provide cash for items not otherwise obtainable. Most Maya are nominal Roman Catholics —though, beginning in the late 20th century, many converted to Evangelical Protestantism. Their Christianityhowever, is generally overlaid upon the native religion. Its cosmology is typically Mayan, and Christian figures are commonly identified with Mayan deities. The native pre-Columbian religion is observed in domestic rites.

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