The Maya Civilization

Maya civilization was one of the most advanced in its time, particularly in astronomy, mathematics, and architecture. The Mayas left us a lot of archaeological sites to explore and allow us to better understand them.

Maya civilization was one of the most advanced in its time, particularly in astronomy, mathematics and architecture. The Mayas left us a lot of archaeological sites to explore and allow us to better understand them.

The Maya was a Mesoamerican civilization which expanded in Southeastern Mexico (Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo states), Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and El Salvador. The first traces of the Maya are dated back to 1000 BC, but it is widely accepted that the Maya real rise was around 600 BC, with the first constructions. The peak of the Maya civilization was during the Classic period, from 250 BC until 900 AD. The decline of the Maya was a slow process staring as early as the 9th century and lasting until 1450. Most of the big cities were abandoned to the jungle. At the arrival of the Spanish in 1519, the Maya civilization comprised only a handful city-states which the Conquistador subdued one by one. The last kingdom to fall was Itza in 1697.

The Maya developed many skills to a high point of perfection. One of them was their writing system. It is a logosyllabic writing system (it has a vague visual resemblance to the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs but no relation exists). Their writing system comprised thousands different characters, but only 200 were commonly used. The first trace of Maya script dates back to 200 - 300 BC. Many of the codexes and engraved stones were destroyed by the Spanish during the conquest. Only three survived and they are in Madrid, Dresden, and Paris. Some texts were found in the ruins on stones, lintels, and pottery.

The Mayas developed the mathematics and were the first to widely use the Zero concept by 357 AD. Europeans started to use it in the middle of the 12th century. Combining the mathematical skills and astronomy observations, they were able to produce accurate maps of the sky, and were able to chart precisely the movement of the main planets including the moon. They also created an almost perfect calendar of 365 days which has a one day fault every 4 years.

The religion has a major role in the every day life of the Maya. They considered the world as an infinite flat square, in 3 planes: The Earth, the sky and the under world, each one dominated by many Gods. The Maya believed everything had a cycle and that understanding the past allows you to live the present, which in its turn will instruct you of the future. The main constructions, such as the great pyramid of Chichen Itza, have a strong link to religion and astronomy. On most of the archaeological sites, you are able to observe several temples dedicated to a specific God.

Many inhabitants from the Yucatan peninsula still speak Maya and use their traditional form of agriculture, clothing, and even religious precepts. In the early 20th century, people were still visiting temples in Tulum to pray.