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Maya EST. 1800 BCE

Who were the Mayans?



! The Chinese have a symbol for each word. Americans use letters to make words. What did the Maya use for their written language? Actually, they had a symbol for each syllable. Surprisingly enough, the Mayan people also had a powerful number system, also. ! The Mayan writing originated with the Olmecs. The Mayans invented writing in 700 BC, more than 2,700 years ago! They had a highly advanced system of writing. There was one symbol for each syllable, so they had a lot of symbols. They had more than 800 symbols! ! They wrote on stelae, tall stone columns that told stories about kings and battles. They also wrote on codices, big books that kept records and told myths and legends. They wrote phrases on cups, plates, and even temples. ! The Mayan number system was a base 20 system. They used stones, sticks, and shells. The stones and sticks were invented for the, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 symbols. They used the shells for the zero that they invented 1,000 years before the Europeans did!

! The calendars were based on astronomy. The Maya thought that earth was the center of all things, fixed and immovable. They said the stars, moons, sun, and planets were gods. Their movements were seen as them going between Earth, the underworld and other celestial destinations. ! The Maya believed that everything that they saw, heard, walked on, or touched was alive with some sacred spirit. The most powerful spirits took shape of a god or goddess. ! The Maya believed that blood was the most valuable offering to the gods. At religious ceremonies, which were run by priests, people would offer their blood to the gods. The more important the person, the better the blood. Leaders’ blood was even more prized for the gods. Everyone was stabbed in various places such as the ears, lips, and tongue. ! The Mayans used limestone to build step pyramids, and brought limestone like the Egyptians on rollers (in this case logs) to the job site. The job site could be many things like, palaces, civil buildings, ball courts, steam baths or canals. ! When a new temple was going to be made, an architect first drew a light drawing of the pyramid/temple that was going to be built. Then he made a clay model of the temple and showed it to the king who wanted to have the temple built. If the model pleased the king, the architect would gather a team of workers to start building. Usually the new temple was built around an old temple. The building supplies were supplied by the rulers of outlying towns. The supplies were tezontle (a lightweight red volcanic rock) that would cover dirt and rubble surrounding an old temple.

The Mayans were a complex culture that lived in Meso-America, which contained El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Belize, and Guatemala. They were conquered in the 1500s by the Spanish.

A modern day Mayan girl. %20sculpture/Mayan_King_by_SkyJaguar.jpg


! The Maya used the slash and burn method for farming. To use the slash and burn method first you rip off the bark then you wait for the wood to dry. When the wood is dry then you burn the trees to clear the land to farm. ! The Maya planted many different crops such as corn, beans, squash, chili, pineapples, avocados, and papayas. The Mayans would eat chocolate but they called it cacao. The Mayans called corn/maize the sunbeam of the gods. ! The Mayans hunted rabbits, dogs and deer for their source of protein. ! The Mayans farm fields were called milpas.! ! They cooked their food over an open fire ! Citizens ate a diet of corn porridge, flat bread and vegetables. ! To make sure that the crops did not wash away in the rain they would cut steps into the hill and plant the seed there. ! The Mayans changed their crops every year to maintain freshness and soil quality. ! Mayans are well known for their weaving and pottery. Mayans used clay to make whistles and statues. Mayans used dyes that were brown, black, yellow, orange, white, red. Mayans painted murals on the walls of the palaces for decoration. They used paper made out of the inner bark of wild fig trees.


! People once thought that the Maya were a gentle and peaceful people. But now we know how wrong they were. Mayans were practically always fighting among separate kingdom and in civil wars over land. Affiliation among kingdoms changed over time. Commoners often fought over land. Over-farming made it hard for people to find land. ! Many of their weapons were made out of obsidian or volcanic glass, like spearheads. Bronze axe heads were often used as well. Many of the weapons had images of carvings depicting many of the war gods. Mayans always had piles of obsidian lying around just in case they had to make a new spearhead for an upcoming battle. ! Although the Maya were advanced in many ways, they had a barbaric side and they often practiced human sacrifice. If there had been a drought for many day, the Maya believed that the rain gods were angry and wanted a sacrifice. They would then throw a victim down a deep well, thinking it would please the god. More often it would poison the remaining water source. In war if warriors captured prisoners the would often sacrifice them to gods. Some were lucky and became slaves for their captors. To surrender in a battle, the warriors would hold the leg of a fellow soldier.



Did you know that the Maya didn't have one ruler? There was a different ruler for each city, and the land around them was ruled by someone else.The leaders of the Maya were called the ajaw, meaning lord or ruler. The ruler talked to the gods for his people. The ruler was chosen by a god. Sometimes the sons ruled after their father. People believe that the gods choose a family to rule, not one person. The ruler lived with his family and servants in a palace in the city. The woman rarely ruled: sometimes the mother ruled for her son until he was older. ! In public the ruler wore an elaborate headdress, gold and greenstone ear spools, lip rings, gold bands on your arms and legs, and a shimmering costume. Also the nobles thought that flat, sloping foreheads were very pretty. So parents flattened their babies heads by pressing the babies heads with a wooden board for several days. ! By 900 C.E. the Mayan cities were abandoned. The Mayan culture still exists today.

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