The Mayan Civilization

By Andra McGlashan

The Mayan Religion

  • The Mayan Religion was a very important part of Mayan life.
  • The Mayans had many rituals, involving nature and astronomy.
  • The Mayans worshiped many gods, including a sun god, a harvesting or maize god, and many river gods, who were thought to give water to the land.
  • The harvesting god was named "Yum Kaax". The Mayans thought he was there to protect their corn, and other crops.
  • The Sun god and the Moon god were believed to be the parents of humans.
  • The Mayans built Pyramids, Temples and many other buildings used for religious purposes.
  • Priests were considered to be among the most important people out of all Mayan tribes.
  • The Maya had a polytheistic religion, meaning they worshiped many gods.
  • Archaeologists do not know what most of their gods were named. We just know they worshiped hundreds of gods.
  • The following are 12 of the most important and interesting gods the Maya believed in;
    • Ab Kin Xoc - A god of Poetry and War
    • Ahau-Chamahez - A god of Medicine
    • Ah-Kiuic - A god of Merchants and of Plenty (wealth)
    • Chac Mol - A god of Rain, Lightning and Thunder
    • Hobnil - A god of Plenty and Food
    • Ah Puch - A god of Death
    • Ajbit - A god of creation. He is one of the thirteen gods who first tried to create men out of wood.
    • Akna - A mother goddess and a goddess associated with Birth
    • Ek Chuah - A god of War and Merchants
    • Hunhau - Chief of Demons (he is a form of Ah Puch)
    • Hun Hunahpu - A god of Maize
    • Itzamna - A god of the Moon, Day and Night, Medicine, and Civilization

The Mayan Tools and Technology

  • The Mayans made many tools using their Technology.
  • The Maya used many different materials to make their tools, including: animal bones, wood, soil, stone, and metal/copper.
  • The tools and weapons were mostly functional and not decorative.
  • People used weapons for fighting and also for self-defense.
  • Tools were also used for everyday life. The Mayans used tools to get water from rivers, to help cook, to prepare food, and to farm.
  • Many of the blades on their weapons were curved and the handles or grips were made from animal bones.

The Mayan Sculptures, Arts,and Artifacts

  • Mayan art was mostly produced between 1500 B.C. to 250 A.D.
  • Mayan art included carving, weaving, pottery/ceramics, and painting.
  • One form of Mayan Sculpture was huge slabs of stone known as stelae that had intricate carvings. Many Mayan pyramids were covered in these carved stone slabs.
  • Most Mayan Art had a religious function, showing gods, or stories from Mayan mythology.
  • Mayans also created beautiful writing in hieroglyphic form.

Farming Agriculture

The Mayan Farming and Agricultural Base

  • Most of Mayan agriculture was based on farming. The farming civilization started around 1,500 B.C.
  • Mayans grew many types of foods. The main crops they grew were: corn, rice, and wheat.
  • The Farming agriculture was also based on cooked foods, consisting of squash, corn and cassava.
  • Mayans used wheat and grains they harvested from farming to make breads and other softer foods.
  • Mayans used selected forest areas to farm. They cut down trees with axes, and used to wood to make tools. When a forest grew back, the farming area was abandoned.
  • The forest had fertile soil.
  • Mayans developed new ways to farm and keep fertile soil. They moved to better farming lands, which were closer to rivers. They developed irrigation systems, to get water to their crops.

Mayan Science, Astronomy and Calendar Creation

  • The Mayans created many Calendars.
  • The basic Mayan calendar had 20 months of 13 days, which made the Mayan year 260 days long.
  • The Mayan priests recorded astronomical events such as eclipses, and natural disasters such as hurricanes and damaging storms.
  • The Mayans believed they could predict future natural disasters by looking at the history of recorded ones.
  • The Mayans studied astronomy. They observed the cycles of the moon and sun as well as the motion of the planets.

The Mayan Mathematics and Number system

  • The Mayans had a simple form of basic math that used only three symbols: a dot for the number one, a bar for the number five, and a shell for zero.
  • Maya numbers are written from bottom to top.
  • The Mayans believed that some numbers were sacred.
  • Nine was considered sacred because it was the number of levels there were in the Mayan underworld.
  • Thirteen was considered sacred because it was the number of Mayan creator gods (who made humans).
  • Fifty-two was considered sacred because it was also the number of years in a Mayan "bundle", which was like a Mayan century.
  • The number four hundred was considered sacred because it represented the number of Maya gods of the night.

The Mayan Government and Social Classes

  • The Maya lived in individual political states linked through trade, political alliances and tribute obligations.
  • Some states were independent. Others part of a political hierarchy.
  • Mayan states were initially ruled by simple chiefdoms.
  • Later, during Classic period, there were centralized leaders. When a leader died, his son took over.
  • Mayan people believed they had to obey their leaders. If you disobeyed, you could be severely punished or killed.
  • At time of Spanish conquest, there were 18 separate Mayan states. Nine of the state were ruled by a single leader called a halach uinic (ahaw).
  • Each Mayan state had a supreme military commander called a nacom.

The Mayan Spoken and Written Language

  • The Mayan language was spoken in southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.
  • The two most important Mayan languages were Cakchiquel and Quiche.
  • But, there were many other languages, too.
  • The largest Western Mayan language was called Tzeltal
  • Yucatec was the most important language spoken in Yucatan, northern Guatemala and Belize.

The Mayan Writing and Literature

  • There are three texts that are preserved from the Mayans.
  • One of the texts is the creation myth. This tells the story of how the creator created the earth and made animals. Because the people would not speak to praise him, the god made the people out of mud. But the mud people just dissolved and fell apart. So, the god asked his grandmother and grandfather what to do. They said to make people out of wood. But, the wood people did not do much of anything besides multiply. So he had all the animals, both wild and tame, and non-living things such as utensils, iron pans and grinding stones, attack the wood people in their houses and smash their faces. The wood people ran off into the woods where they became the monkeys. This supposedly shows people today that there was a failed experiment to make people before humans were created. The creator finally made people out of Maize (corn!)
  • Another form of ancient Mayan writing is the recording of the history of Mayan royalty. This appears on an ancient cup that was used for a chocolate drink.

The Mayan Music

  • Mayan people many instruments, including flutes, reed pipes, bones pipes, drums, and scrapers.
  • There are no records of Mayan string instruments.
  • Music was used in religious ceremonies by Shamen.
  • Music was also used during burial of the dead. People played clay flutes at funerals, and then broke them and dropped the pieces into the graves.
  • Drums were used to call up the spirits of the dead and to call to the gods.
  • The Maya made clay flutes in the shapes of many different animals.
  • Traditional Mayan instruments are still played by Mayan people today

The Daily Life Of the Maya

  • The daily life of the Maya began very early, usually around 4:00 AM.
  • Their breakfast consisted of food they had eaten the night before (left overs).
  • Women were usually the ones to make breakfast.
  • After breakfast, men would leave with their sons to farm.
  • Their main crops consisted of corn, wheat, rice, squash, and cassava.
  • Around mid day, men and their sons would leave the farm, and and go out to hunt for meat. Meat was a big part in their everyday diet.
  • Mayans used many tools and/or weapons to hunt. Most of their weapons were made of iron, and wood.
  • Their weapons and tools included clay pellets, blowpipes, spears, bows and arrows.
  • Blow pipes and clay pellets were used to kill various types of birds, including turkey
  • Spears were used to kill rabbits, deer, and other animals.
  • Some Mayan cities had community baths.
  • Men and women ate dinner separately. Usually women served the men and then ate their dinner later. This is because most of the women's daily life consisted of house work and preparing food.
  • Dinner included many of the crops they farmed and the meat they hunted. For example, they ate cornmeal pancakes, black beans, meat (rabbit and turkey), squash, and rice.
  • After dinner men usually worked at making wooden, jade, and Iron weapons. They also made tools to use for hunting and farming. Sometimes, they made tools to trade.
  • After dinner, women usually spun cotton, weaved, sewed, and did house work.