The Mysterious Maya 400 BCE–900 CE Central America
Natural Barriers From about 400 BCE until 900 CE, the Maya civilization stretched from the highlands of modern day Guatemala to the hot coastal plain along the Pacific Coast, to the tropical rain forest of the Yucatan Peninsula. These natural barriers helped to protect the Maya civilization for 1300 years.
The Maya To find the ruins of ancient Maya cities hidden deep in the rainforest, archaeologists have to hunt on foot. The rain forest is home to many poisonous animals. Some archaeologists are willing to brave the dangers to learn more about the clever Maya.
Maya Cities Two thousand years ago, the Yucatan Peninsula was a busy place. The Maya did not have metal tools—they used stone, bone, and wood tools to build hundreds of magnificent cities. Cities were centers of religion and learning. The Maya studied art, mathematics, architecture, drama, medicine, and music.
Maya Cities Every Maya city had an impressive palace for its ruler, a bustling marketplace, an open-air plaza where people could gather, and at least one huge pyramid, a large temple, and one ball court similar to the stadiums we have today. People came to town to shop, to worship, and to cheer at the ball games.
Cities Question Two of the largest cities were • Tikal (tee-KAHL), located in the present-day country of Guatemala • Copan (ko-PAHN), located in the present-day country of Honduras QUESTION: What were three things you could find in every Maya city?
Gods of Nature The Maya worshipped the gods of nature. Some of their gods included Lady Rainbow, and the Gods of Rain, Maize, and Sun. Without the help of these important gods, there would be no crops and everyone would starve.
Priests The priests, along with the leaders in each city-state, were the most powerful people in the Maya civilization. The Maya believed that their priests could talk to the gods. The priests decided when to plant crops and when people could marry and to whom. Before doing pretty much anything, one had to ask for a priest’s approval.
The Underworld The Maya believed in an underworld, the Place of Awe. The priests held ceremonies to keep demons and spooky creatures locked inside the underworld, where they belonged. During these ceremonies, priests wore scary masks and jaguar costumes. They wanted to look as scary as the magical creatures in the underworld.
The Legend of Mirrors The Maya believed that one could communicate with a god by looking into a mirror. Legend says…warriors going into battle wore mirrors on their backs. The idea was that if an enemy warrior tried to sneak up on a Maya warrior, a demon might reach out from the underworld and snatch the enemy.