The Maya of Mesoamerica, along with the Aztecs of
Mexico and the Incas of Peru, made up the high
civilizations of the American Indians at the time of the
Spanish conquest. Both the Aztecs and the Incas were late
civilizations, between 1300-1533 AD, but the Maya of the
Yucatan and Guatemala exhibited a cultural continuity
spanning more than 2,000 years, 1000 BC-AD 1542.
Many aspects of this culture continue yet today. The
Ancient Maya in their time had actually refined writing.
They had an extensive written language, which was both
phonetic as well as ideographic. One of only five
independently created writing systems in human history.
Maya words were in hieroglyphs, each picture with its own
meaning. Unlike other ancient Central American
civilizations, the Maya could write in words, sentences, and
even stories. Arranging several pictures together in a logical
form would create a story. The Maya covered their cities
and buildings with hieroglyphs carved into the stone. Most
of the Maya could read some hieroglyphs, but the priests
and nobles were the only people who actually had
knowledge of the entire language. The Maya would also
use quills made of turkey feathers to write in books made
of soft bark taken from a type of fig tree. Religion was the
center of the Mayan life. Mayans believed that there were
two levels of the world. The first level was the physical
world and the second was the spiritual world, which
consisted of the old dead ancestors, gods, and other
supernatural creatures. The Mayan kings and spiritual
leaders would tell the lower levels of the society what
would please the gods. The gods were modeled after
animals for sacrificial purposes and religious ceremonies.
The ancient Maya had many beliefs. They had possessed
an in depth understanding of astronomy, engineering, and
mathematics. The Maya believed that the Sun, Moon, and
other planets, had been journeys of the gods. The Mayan
priests studied their measurement of time. The Maya had a
calendar with 18 months each containing 20 days, plus 5
unlucky days that made up the Mayan year. They also had
a religious calendar that had 260 days in it. Each day was
given a name and a number. They believed that each day
was a god that carried the weight of the day on its back.
The Mayan civilization in all stages has been based on
agriculture. Indian corn or maize was domesticated from a
wild grass in central Mexico about 7,000 years ago and
sustained most sedentary Indian civilizations from that time.
In the humid areas, a surplus of water and rapid growth of
trees and vines encouraged the slash-and-burn farming
method. The farmer cleared the cornfield by cutting bushes
and girdling the trees, usually near the...