Mayan Facts – Questions and Answers!

Image credit: bambe1964, CC BY-ND 2.0

Mayan Facts – Questions and Answers!

Image credit: bambe1964, CC BY-ND 2.0

1. Where were the Mayans From?

Settlement area of ancient Maya in North and Central America. Image credit: Nepenthes (converted to English by Kaldari), (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Maya are the native people of Mexico and Central America. They lived in the land what is today Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras.

2. When was the Mayan civilization?

National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Maya mask. Stucco frieze from Placeres, Campeche. Early Classic period (c. 250 – 600 AD). Joyce Kelly 2001 An Archaeological Guide to Central and Southern Mexico, p.105. ISBN 0-8061-3349-X. Image credit: Wolfgang Sauber (Xenophon), GFDL.

The Mayans originated at around 2600 BC. By 250 AD they were at the zenith of power, but by 900 AD the Mayan civilization began to decline.

3. How long did the Mayan civilization last?

Maya Ruins of Tazumal in Santa Ana, El Salvador. Image credit: Paralogical, (CC BY 2.0)

The Mayan civilization was one of the most advanced in the Mesoamerica civilizations. It lasted for approximately 3000 years.

4. Why did the Mayan civilization collapse?

Mayan ruins. Image credit: jtyoder, PD image.

There is not just one exact theory for but there are many that suggest the reason for the collapse of the great Mayan empire. Some of these suggestions are massive droughts, foreign invasion, collapse of trade routes, epidemic diseases, war among themselves, famine, environmental changes that affected their farming, civil strife, over farming etc.

5. What did the Mayans do for fun?

Ballgame marker from the classic Lowland Maya site of Chinkultic, Mexico depicting a ballplayer in full gear. Image credit: Maunus, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Mayans main form of entertainment was their ball game. It was played in special courts that were built in an I shape. There were two teams and stone hoops attached to the sides or opposite ends of the court. The goal was to get the rubber ball through these hoops and the two teams fought against each other for this. Unlike modern ball games, this one required the ball to be bounced off hips, forearms and shoulders instead of throwing. Onlookers, players, gamblers, sponsors and everyone became a part of this. Before and after the game the priests would perform ceremonies.

6. How did the Mayans live?

A reconstructed Mayan house is in the courtyard of the Museo de la Isla de Cozumel in San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico. Image credit: D-Stanley, (CC BY 2.0)

The birth of a child was a very significant event for the Mayans, for they considered it as a sign of good fortune and a measure of wealth. Girls lived with their parents until marriage and were taught to cook, yarn, weave, spin and clean house. Unmarried boys would paint their faces black and they lived in a communal house where they played games and learned about crafts and warfare. Girls would be fifteen, the boys eighteen before marriages took place, and they were usually arranged marriages. After marriage, the husband had to live with the wife’s parents for 3-6 years and assist the father-in-law. Only the noble class could have multiple wives. Divorce was also very common so on the first marriage was celebrated grandly in a formal ceremony.

Ancient Mayan houses had walls made of poles plastered with earth and the floors were covered with leaves that were changed frequently. Fiber matting was also used to cover the floors and for bedding as well. The sharply pitched roofs were made out of thatched palm leaves supported by beans and saplings. The house was divided into two sections, the rear was the sleeping quarters and the front was where daily activities took place; the kitchen was often separate from the house. The furniture was mostly wooden stools and benches. The cooking was done on stone hearths using clay pots.

Every month a variety of religious celebrations, banquets and festivals took place, most of which involved rich costumes, dancing and excessive drinking. There were more than a thousand dances and mostly men and women danced separately.

Illnesses and bad luck were viewed as a result of evil spirits or the disapproval of gods. After an illness was identified a sorcerer was called to examine the victim apply remedies. Remedies included divination, potions and rituals. The Maya greatly feared death. Sometimes people were buried in caves and on occasion children were buried in pottery jars. Usually, peasants were buried in the floor of their homes.

7. Where are the Mayan ruins in Mexico?

Pyramid of Kukulkan (“El Castillo”). Image credit: MCAD Library, (CC BY 2.0)

The impressive stone architecture of the Mayans can still be seen today. Most of the Mayan ruins are named as World Heritage Sites. The most visited ruins are located in Yucatan, Mexico. The pyramid of Kukulan in Chichen Itza provides a great view from its peak. At the Spring and Fall equinoxes, the setting sun creates amazing shadows on the steps of the pyramid. The shadows represent a snake descending the steps. This attracts the attention of many visitors. Mayan ruins can be found in Uxmal, Coba, Cancum, Chichen Itza, Tulum and many other places in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

8. What did the Mayans wear?

A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing by Señor Codo, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ancient Maya produced a wide range of clothing for many occasions. They made use of the natural resources they could find in their tropical environment to make their clothing. Casual day-to-day clothing included a loincloth (or short skirt) for men and a long skirt for women. These clothes were decorated with accessories such as anklets, bracelets, necklaces etc. They paid great attention to hairstyles and the hair was almost never worn loose. The hairstyles were decorated with feathers and fabric.

For large public events such as ceremonies and rituals, the elite wore their clothing to show off their important status in the society – large, and rich clothing. Clothes made from the skin of dangerous animals such as jaguars, feathered headdresses, and jade jewelry was included in their attire.

For dances, the participants wore large costumes that were probably made to be light despite its size. These costumes were made of feathers, jade and other exotic materials, large headdresses, and long feathered back-racks were also often included. The costume probably had a light wooden frame to attach the material to and was made so that the dancers could move around without trouble.

Protective armor was included a padded mantle which was often covered with animal skin, and accessories such as shields were decorated with feathers and animal skin. When playing the Mayan ball game, the players wore padded armor on the knees and elbow and a horseshoe shaped yoke around the waist to reduce the risk of damage.

9. How does the Maya calendar work?

Image credit: bambe1964, CC BY-ND 2.0

The Mayans used three different calendars. The first was known as the Tzolk’in – the sacred calendar. This lasted 260-days and then started again similar to the modern 365-day calendar. This calendar was used to schedule religious ceremonies.

The second calendar was the Haab’ – the solar calendar. This has 365 days not including the additional quarter day it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun. In the modern calendar, a day is added to February every four years (leap years) for this.

The final one is the Long Count Calendar, which caused all the chaos about doomsday. A Calendar Round is a date which will repeat after 52 Haab’ years or 18,980 days. The specify dates longer than the 52 Haab’ years the Long Count Calendar was used.

10. When does the Mayan calendar end?

12-12-12_ Calendario_Circular_mayan
12-12-12 * Calendario Circular. Image credit: jacilluch, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Mayan Long Count Calendar begins at the mythical Mayan creation date. The calendar is divided into 144,000 day cycles or bak’tuns. December 21st 2012 is the last day of the 13th bak’tun. This marks a full cycle of creation in the Maya point of view. The Mayan calendar does not predict the end of the world; instead, it predicted the end of a cycle of creation.

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