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Definition: Maya from Philip's Encyclopedia

Culture of classic American civilization. Occupying S Mexico and N Central America, it was at its height from the 3rd to 9th centuries. The Maya built great temple-cities, with buildings on step pyramids. They were skilful potters and weavers and productive farmers. They worshipped gods and ancestors, and blood sacrifice was an important element of religion. Maya civilization declined in the 10th century, and much was destroyed after the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. The modern Maya, numbering c.4 million, live in the same area and speak a variety of languages related to that of their ancestors.


Summary Article: Maya
from Rourke's Native American History & Culture Encyclopedia

descended from the ancient Olmec people, lived in the rainforests of Central America for hundreds of years. Historians divide this time into three periods: the Preclassic, Classic, and Postclassic. Preclassic Maya lived among the Olmec. Classic Maya lived in what is now Guatemala. Postclassic Maya lived in the Yucatán Peninsula of eastern Mexico. Mayans divided their societies into classes, including rulers, religious leaders, government workers, craftspeople, farmers, and slaves. Classic and Postclassic Maya built important religious and trade centers called city-states. The ruins of some city-states still exist, including Tikal and Palenque. The recent discovery of sophisticated Preclassic ruins show that they too, had a flourishing culture. Historians do not know the exact reasons for the Mayan decline, but suspect war and crop failure.

Plains peoples actively managed the land for native plants and animals. They set the

The time of the Mayas stretched from before A.D. 300 to the early 1500s when Spanish explorers arrived.

This temple shows the stone architecture of the Maya.

Language: They spoke the Mayan language.

Location: They occupied Mesoamerica, particularly the Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and El Salvador.

Diet: They planted corn, beans, squash, chili peppers, and cassava, a kind of melon.

Mayan farmers built rectangular homes with rounded corners and thatched roofs.

Housing: The Maya built stone palaces and pyramid temples. Farmers lived in simple pole and grass houses outside the cities.

Customs: Priests performed sacred ceremonies.

Interesting Fact: Mayan writings include history, science, and math. The Maya developed their own calendars and even built observatories to study the stars and planets.

Copyright ©2009 Rourke Publishing, LLC

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