80+ Interesting Facts About the Maya People and Civilization
Three of the greatest ancient civilizations that existed in the Americas are the Aztecs, Incas and Mayas. On this particular topic, I’ll give you the most interesting and historical facts about the Maya civilization and its people.
1.) The eastern and southern Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and western Honduras are the locations of the Maya civilization, one of the most advanced civilization in the western hemisphere before the arrival of Europeans.
2.) The Maya people thrived for over 2,000 years where they built massive stone pyramids, temples, and sculptures.
3.) The Mayan developed a system of writing using hieroglyphs; and recorded their achievements in mathematics and astronomy.
4.) Their peak of development and greatness lasted from 300 CE to 900 CE and during such period they developed an agriculturally intensive, city-centered empire consisting of numerous independent city-states that includes the cities of Calakmul, Copan, Palenque and Tikal.
5.) After 900 CE, the Maya mysteriously declined in the southern lowlands of Guatemala.
6.) The Maya people never disappeared. Descendants of the Maya still form a large part of the population of the Yucatan region.
7.) Majority of the earliest Maya were farmers who lived in small, scattered villages of pole and thatch houses.
8.) As farmers, they planted their fields as a community; planting seeds in holes made with a pointed wood stick and later adopted intensive farming techniques such as continuous cultivation involving crop rotation and fertilizers, household gardens, and terraces.
9.) Mayas main crops were maize (corn), beans, squash, avocados, chili peppers, pineapples, papayas, and cacao.
10.) Cacao was made into a chocolate drink with water and hot chilies.
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11.) They ground corn to make a drink known as “atole” or to cook as flat cakes known as “tortillas”.
12.) Aside from Atole, another popular drink among Maya people is the “balche” which is made from fermented honey mixed with the bark of the balche tree.
13.) They hunted deer, rabbits and turkeys for making stews. Fishing is also an important source of living that supplied part of their diet.
14.) Among the animals that were kept as domestic animals by the Maya people include dogs, ducks and turkeys.
15.) The Mayas never used steel or iron as tools. They are usually made of stone. Maya men made clay figurines, jade carvings, ropes, baskets, and mats.
16.) Women made painted pottery vessels out of coiled strands of clay, and they wove ponchos, men’s loincloths, and women’s skirts.
17.) The Maya people used the bark of wild fig tree as their papers.
18.) Maya had neither draft animals nor wheeled vehicles, they carried goods for trade over the narrow trails with backpacks called “ tumplines”.
19.) Another means of transporting goods utilized by Mayas is through dugout canoes along the coasts and rivers.
20.) Maya worshiped agricultural gods, such as the rain god and the corn god and they made offerings to win the favor of the gods and goddesses.
21.) Maya nobles and commoners both lived in extended family compounds.
22.) Enormous pyramids were constructed at the site of El Mirador, Guatemala. These pyramids are among the largest constructions in the ancient Maya world.
23.) Pyramids also were built on large plazas at Cival, a royal metropolis near Tikal in Guatemala.
24.) The weapons and tools of Maya people were made of obsidian, a smooth volcanic rock.
25.) Kaminaljuyú was the most powerful chiefdom of the highlands.
26.) Classic Maya kings carried the title “k’ul ahau” or supreme and sacred ruler.
27.) The power of the king existed as both a political and religious authority.
28.) Principal goods traded by highland Maya include obsidian for tools and weapons; grinding stones; jade; green parrot and quetzal feathers; a tree resin called copal to burn as incense; and cochineal, a red dye made from dried insects.
29.) Principal goods traded by lowland Maya were jaguar pelts, chert (flint), salt, cotton fibers and cloth, balche, wax, honey, dried fish, and smoked venison.
30.) While other early civilization used shells as money, the Mayas used Cacao as a kind of currency.
31.) A Maya noble man wore an embroidered cotton loincloth trimmed with feathers; a robe of cotton, jaguar skin, or feathers; sandals; and an elaborate feather headdress.
32.) A Maya nobleman’s head had been fashionably elongated by being pressed during his infancy and his eyes had purposely been crossed in childhood by having objects dangled before them.
33.) The nose of a noble man was built up with putty to give it an admired beak shape, and his ears and teeth were inlaid with jade.
34.) A noblewoman wore a loose white cotton robe that was often embroidered. Her head was also elongated, and she filed her teeth to points.
35.) Nobles lived in houses of cut stone with plastered walls that often bore brightly painted murals.
36.) In the living room nobles gave banquets of turkey, deer, duck, chocolate, and balche. The guests were expected to bring gifts and to give a banquet in return.
37. Mayas have a weird method of funeral. A dead noble was buried in a stone vault with jade and pottery ornaments, and occasionally with human sacrifices, which were provided to serve him in the afterlife.
38.) Common Maya or commoner men wore plain cotton loincloths and simple tunics.
39.) Common Maya women wore woven cotton blouses and skirts or loose-fitting sack dresses with simple embroidered patterns.
40.) Women and girls wore their hair long and took care that it was always combed and arranged attractively.
41.) If you like to know the status of a woman, take a look at her hairstyle. Different hairstyles signaled the marital status of women.
42.) Both Maya men and women tattooed their bodies with elaborate designs.
43.) Maya people are good followers. They gave two-thirds of their produce and much of their labor to the upper classes.
44.) The lowest class in the Mayan society was the slaves who were convicted criminals, poor commoners who sold themselves into bondage, captives of war, or individuals acquired by trade.
45.) Slaves performed menial tasks for their owners and they were often sa0crificed when their owners died so that they could continue to serve in the afterlife.
46.) Zeus is to the Greeks and Hunab Ku is to the Maya people. “Hunab Ku”, the chief god of the Mayas is believed as the creator of the world.
47.) “Itzamna”, a sky deity considered lord of the heavens and lord of day and night who brought rain and patronized writing and medicine, was worshiped especially by the priests, and he appears to have been the patron deity of the royal lineages.
48.) The maize deity Yum Kaax is closer to the common people in addition to the four Chacs, or rain gods, each associated with a cardinal direction and with its own special color.
49.) Women worshiped Ix Chel, a rainbow deity associated with healing, childbirth, and weaving.
50.) You’ll surely find this absurd - all the Maya revered Ixtab, goddess of suicide because they thought that suicides went to a special heaven.
51.) The Maya also recognized the gods who controlled each day, month, and year.
52.) The Maya performed many rituals and ceremonies to communicate with their deities. At stated intervals, such as the Maya New Year in July, or in emergencies—such as famine, epidemics, or a great drought—the people gathered in ritual plazas to honor the gods.
53.) They hung feathered banners in doorways all about the plaza.
54.) Groups of men or women in elaborate feathered robes and headdresses, with bells on their hands and feet, danced in the plaza to the music of drums, whistles, rattles, flutes, and wood trumpets.
55.) Worshipers took ritual steam baths and drank intoxicating Atole from balche and participants often ingested other hallucinogenic drugs, such as mushrooms, and they smoked a very strong form of tobacco with hallucinogenic effects.
56.) Young Maya nobles played a sacred ball game on specially constructed courts. Without using their hands, players tried to knock a rubber ball through one of the vertical stone rings built into the walls of the court called “pok-ta-pok”.
57.) This is certainly bizarre. On special occasions players who lost the game (pok-ta-pok) would be sacrificed to the gods.
58.) Many Mayan ceremonies focused on sacrifices to gain the favor of the gods. The sacrifices took place on the great stone pyramids that rose above the plazas, with stairs leading to a temple and altar on top.
59.) The temple, a resting place for the god, was deeply carved or painted with designs and figures and was topped with a carved vertical slab of stone called a roof comb.
60.) Some Mayan Temple had distinctive corbeled arches, in which each stone extended beyond the one beneath it until the two sides of the arch were joined by a single keystone at the top.
61.) Mayas are practitioners of piercing. Worshipers sometimes gave the gods simple offerings of corn, fruit, game, or blood, which a worshiper obtained by piercing his own lips, tongue, or genitals.
62.) This is extremely bizarre and weird. For major favors, Mayan people would offer the gods human sacrifice; usually children, slaves, or prisoners of war.
63.) A victim to be offered was painted blue and then ceremonially killed on top of the pyramid, either by being shot full of arrows or by having his arms and legs held while a priest cut open his chest with a sacrificial flint knife and tore out his heart as an offering.
64.) If a ruler was captured during a battle, he is sometimes ritually sacrificed by decapitating them with an axe.
65.) Although Maya builders possessed many practical skills, the most distinctive Maya achievements were in abstract mathematics and astronomy.
66.) One of their greatest intellectual achievements was a pair of interlocking calendars, which was used for the scheduling of ceremonies.
67.) The Mayans were able to design one calendar which was based on the sun and contained 365 days.
68.) A second calendar developed by the Mayas was a sacred 260-day almanac used for finding lucky and unlucky days.
69.) The two calendars are represented as two geared wheels that meshed together at one point along the rim, with the glyphs for the days of the sun calendar on one wheel and the glyphs for the days of the sacred almanac on the other.
70.) With each new day the wheels were turned by one gear. The name for each day was formed by combining the name for the sun calendar day with the name for the sacred almanac day.
71.) Maya astronomers could make difficult calculations, such as finding the day of the week of a particular calendar date many thousands of years in the past or in the future.
72.) They also used the concept of zero, an extremely advanced mathematical concept.
73.) Maya astronomers calculated the time of the Venusian year as 584 days.
74.) The Maya developed a complex system of hieroglyphic writing to record not only astronomical observations and calendrical calculations, but also historical and genealogical information.
75.) Maya were writing more than 2,300 years ago, at least 600 years earlier than previously thought.
76.) The Maya people worshipped the feathered serpent-god Kukulcan.
77.) They practiced human sacrifice in worship and other forms of sacrifice such as the throwing of victims into a sacred cenote, or natural well, along with offerings of pottery, gold, jade, and other valuables.
78.) Chichen Itza was a very large city with a central area covering about 5 km².
79.) The Mayans used gold, copper, turquoise, and onyx in jewelry.
80.) Painted books, called codices, were made of bark fiber or deerskin.
81.) A 100 year of civil warfare left the Maya vulnerable to the invading Spaniards.
82.) Spaniards and Mayas first engagement occurred in Yucatan in 1511.
83.) The modern descendants of the Maya still live as peasant farmers throughout the Maya region.
84.) Mayas of today still make pilgrimages with copal-burning incense pots to worship the old gods among the ruins of ancient pyramids and temples.