The Mayan Indians were an extraordinarily inventive people who developed sophisticated architecture without the convenience of stone tools for building. While the majority of Europe’s population was illiterate during the Dark Ages, the Mayans developed hieroglyphics, mathematics, astronomy and other arts in sciences long before other civilizations.
Their political organization was also quite sophisticated, including kings, noblemen, upper and middle classes and workers. These social organizations existed mainly in the cities, and while the cities of the Mayan Indians were extensive and well-built, they often did not last very long, and the Mayan Indians frequently returned to an agrarian way of life.
The Mayan Indians probably first appeared on the Yucatan Peninsula around 2, 600 BCE and their civilization reached its peak around 250 C.E., although they rose and fell many times. They began as agrarian people, employing a slash and burn technique to clear the land for farming. Women were usually responsible for farming alongside men, and the main crops of the Mayan Indians were maize, squash, beans, pumpkins and tobacco. Men did the hunting and building, and while the huts of the Mayan Indians were a far cry from their palatial cities, they were sturdy and housed one or several families.
One of the primary reasons the Mayan Indians developed cities was their need for water. As the supply dwindled, Mayan Indians found farming too difficult and congregated into cities where they could build wells to hold enough water for the entire community. This could be an explanation for the fact that the Mayan Indians often abandoned their cities and returned to farming life; as the water supply improved, they decided to go back to their farms.
The Mayan Indians are the largest group of indigenous people in Peru. In spite of intermarriage and acculturation, there is still a distinct group of Mayan Indians who maintain many of their customs and traditions.
Joseph Paige © 2006