The Culture of the Mayan People


Scattered throughout Southern Mexico and Central America in the countries of Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, and Guatemala stand the remains of the ancient Mayan civilization. A thriving empire that arose sometime around 2500 B.C. and lasted until its fall after 900 A.D., the ancient Maya were an accomplished people remembered for their distinct artwork, the temples and pyramids they built, and their system of writing. The Mayan knowledge of astronomy and their creation of detailed calendars is also well-known, in part due to the myth that their calendars predicted the end of the world set for 2012.

The Mayan Civilization

A brief summary of the history and lifestyle of the Mayan civilization.

History.com - The Rise and Fall of the Maya Empire

The History Channels presents an intricate look at the Maya Empire and its history.

The Rise and Fall of the Mayan Empire

Thorough history of the Mayan Empire presented by NASA Science.

Maya Adventure

An interactive web adventure designed to educate visitors on the Mayan culture.

Mayan History

Thorough documentation of the Mayan beliefs, accomplishments, and history.

Class Society

The Mayan class society is structured much like the towering pyramids they built. At the top sat the king or ruler who held supreme power. After the king came the nobles, high-ranking officials that held political power and also functioned as warriors, farmers, and clergy members known as “Men of the Sun.” Below the nobles were the merchants that served as an upper middle class. Then came the common people followed by the slaves. Slaves consisted of prisoners captured during battles with other societies.

Lost Civilizations - Mayan Society

Comprehensive guide to all aspects of Mayan society and government.

Maya Society

Article examining the class structure of the Mayan civilizations.

Maya Daily Life

Short, simple text describing the daily life of the Mayan people.

Daily Life in the Maya Empire

Student’s guide to the Maya empire and society.

The Maya Explorer – Maya Society

Easy to follow explanation of the Mayan society and its political system.

Mayan Religion

Mayan religion focused on many gods and goddesses. The specific gods worshiped varied by region and some held more power than others. The gods and goddesses represented different aspects of life or forces of nature, such as the God of Rain, the God of Corn, and the Sun God. Rituals such as burning incense, wearing special clothing, and praying were used to communicate with the Mayan gods. Human bloodletting and sacrifice did occur on occasion though it remains unclear how common the practice was or how the victims were chosen.

Mayan Religion

Brief overview of the Mayan religion with a list of popular gods and goddesses.

Mayan Gods and Goddesses

Detailed explanation of common Mayan gods and goddesses along with picture representations.

Mayan Religion

Student guide to the religion of the Mayan people.

Maya Religion

Brief and simple guide to religion in Mayan society.

ThinkQuest - Mayan Religion

Summary of Mayan religious beliefs.

Mayan Calendar

For a society rich in religion, agriculture, and astronomical knowledge, the Mayan calendar was very important to daily life. The Mayans developed a complex and surprisingly accurate calendar system based on observations of the movement of the stars and the changing seasons. Unlike today’s single 365 day calendar, the Mayans had at least three different date systems.

The first, known as Long Count, calculated the number of days since the Mayan era had begun – quite a long time to count! The second date system was known as the Tzolkin and it controlled when the Maya performed religious rituals. It was based on 20 day cycles with each day represented by a specific glyph or picture. Finally, the Habb calendar was the most like the calendars used today. It contained 365 days, though months were divided differently. Keeping such accurate calendars helped the Mayan known when to plant crops and when to harvest them. As a society that relied on agriculture to survive, this was crucial. 

The Classic Maya Calendar and Day Numbering System

A thorough explanation of the Mayan calendar and numbering systems along with images of related glyphs.

The Mayan Calendar

Answers to common questions about the Mayan calendar.

The Maya Calendar

Explanation of the Mayan calendar with colored images of glyphs.

Maya Calendar

A guide to the Mayan calendar with charts for easy reference.

Maya

Facts about the Mayan civilizations and their calendar and numbering systems.

Mayan Architecture

The Maya are well remembered for their towering temples and pyramids carved with intricate designs displaying their artwork and belief systems. Pyramids rose toward the sky with two to four staircases carved into the outside for climbing. The Maya hoped climbing the pyramids would bring them closer to their gods. Temples were used for ritualistic purposes. Platforms supported priests while they carried out their rituals and pictures of the gods would adorn the temple. Often buildings were built on top of each other and chipping away at one building would reveal smaller building below it. The carvings found on these structures are considered advanced for the time period.

Mayan Architecture

A short guide to Mayan buildings and how they were constructed.

Maya Architecture

A thorough article on Mayan architecture with picture examples.

ThinkQuest – Mayan Architecture

A summary of Mayan architecture with picture examples.

Mayan Architecture: Dialogue Between Men and Gods

An illustrated introduction to Mayan buildings and the significance they held.

Mayan Art and Architecture

A richly detailed guide to the artwork and architecture of the Mayan people.

Mayan Myths

According to Mayan mythology, their ancestors were created from maize dough long after animals and materials such as clay came into existence. The Popol Vuh is a Mayan book containing many stories and beliefs of the ancient civilization. The Hero Twins were common mythological figures said to defeat evil demons and deities that brought suffering and death.

The Maya Culture

An overview of the Mayan people and their religious beliefs.

The Truth Around Mayan Myths

Answers to common myths about the Mayan people.

Mythology of the Mayas

Guide to the mythology and beliefs of the Mayan people.

Mayan Stories of Creation

Details on the Mayan creation myths with translated excerpts from the Popol Vuh.

Mayan Religion

Facts on the Mayan religions.

Conclusion

The common belief is that the Mayan civilization vanished without a trace, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The ancestors of the Maya are alive today in parts of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. The old civilizations may have vanished, but the people remain. The buildings and calendar systems the Maya have left behind let us study not only the lives of ancient civilizations, but also the mathematical and astrological systems that continue to influence us even in modern times.