The Maya culture is one of the greatest the world has ever seen. They lived in areas of Central and South America from around 2000 BC until 1500 AD. The Mayan culture spread over a vast territory covering present Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and most of Guatemala and Belize. They originated some 5000 years ago but records reveal their early settlements in Guatemala, around 2500 B.C. or in Yucatan, dating from 1600 B.C.
Interestingly, the evolution of the Maya people can be separated into three main stages namely the pre-classic in between 1600 B.C. to 250 A.D., the classic in between 250 to 900 A.D. and the post classic from about 900 - 1542. The different time periods speaks of the changing phases of development in the life of the Mayans both on the cultural and social front. It also tells us about the Spanish conquest in 1948.
The Maya civilization encompassed everything from raising a distinctive architecture, the structure of a highly developed written language, the design of jewelry and ceramics and above all, the knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.
However, in the early pre-classic era of the Maya civilization, agriculture developed while hunting weapons were made more powerful using arrows with obsidian points. Moreover, irrigation techniques were applied to grow better crops. The middle pre-classic period was the time when stone constructions came into being like for instance those found at the excavations in Nakb'e, in El Pet'en, North of Guatemala.
In the late pre-classic era, the highlights of Maya culture were writing the first calendars and limestone constructions. As a matter of fact, during this period altar temples and monuments were erected, mythical scenes in two dimensions were painted while mathematics and astronomy came into being. And not to mention the classic period, which saw the economic growth as commercial networks were strengthened, and cacao grains were used as currency for business exchange. However the Mayans were healthy traders especially in gold.
The Maya civilization is well known for its archaeological brilliance namely the pyramids, sculpted stone pillars, ‘pelota’ playing fields, temples and plazas. In numerous parts of Central America you can still find many of the remaining ruins. Like the Greeks, they comprised as many as twenty sovereign states, which existed on the Yucatan Peninsula.
History tells us that Mayan art is a mere reflection of their everyday life and culture. Their art was composed of description and painting upon paper and plaster, wood and stone carvings, clay and stucco models, and pieces of terra cotta artistry. The Maya writing system or otherwise called hieroglyphics was a culmination of ideograms and phonetic symbols. It is said to be most complex form of writing having more than 800 symbols.
The Mayans were spiritual, as they believed in many Gods and practiced religious ceremonies. They mainly worshipped Ixtab, goddess of sacrificial suicide, Yum Cicil, the god of death, Kinich Ahau, the sun god and Chac, the rain god. They also indulged in amusements by way of games like "Pok-a-tok" and "Bul".
Although there is a mixture of Mayan and Western European traditions, current day Guatemalan Mayas still carry on much of their culture and religion. It just goes to show how the Maya culture, one of it’s own kind have stood against the test of time and thrives even today.
Joseph Paige © 2006