The Ancient Maya

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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 end of the rainy

season, allowing the piled brush to dry under the hot sun of

the dry season. It is known that the Mayas enjoyed

chocolate. They had it in many forms from a frothy drink to

a pulpy mush. The Mayas referred to chocolate as "The

Drink of the Gods." They had other food such as cornmeal,

maize, black beans, roasted meat, rabbit stew, turkey and

other meats. Many people chewed of the leaves of the

sapodilla tree as a gum-like substance. The Mayan culture

had many arts, such as dance, music and clothing. They

had more than 5,000 dances and loved music. Dancing

was a huge part of religious ceremonies. Musicians played

wooden flutes and trumpets made of wood, seashells, or

clay, and drums made from turtle shells. For clothing the

men would have worn an ex (pronounced eh-sh) which is a

loincloth. The women would wear loose sack-like dresses.

The clothes of the nobles and priests were made up of finer

materials and had many shells and beads on them. For

ceremonies they would wear beautiful headdresses for

religious purposes. As for beauty, the Mayans had a...
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