Table of Contents



Who were the Mayans?             1
History                                2
Class system                         4
Government                          4

Clothing, art                          5

Crystal skulls                        6
writing system                      
codices                                7

Astronomy                            8

Calendar                              9
Numeric system                     10
Architecture, Temple of Tikal      10
Cocoa invention, ball game        10
Copan                                 11

Conclusion                           12

Bibliography                         13




This is a project about the Mayan and their impact on our society. This project Hill describe the  ayan society and the importance of their society in today’s everyone’s  lives. The project also includes current discoveries and Ruins that have been found not many years ago. By reading this project you will learn and know how interesting a society such as the Mayan can be and how life in those times was and how different their culture differs from ours and what has been inherited from the Mayans. It describes the contributions of the Mayans that now a days are used thanks to this fabulous group of Indians. Some of the contributions described in this project are: art, architecture, writing, calendar, mathematics and economy.

The information for this project was obtained from sources like books and web pages in which a copious amount of information about this culture can be found.

The history of the Mayans is very wide and they have been existing probable since 2000 to 1000 BC. They are most likely to be a well-known group of civilizations in America. “The Maya civilization was never united under one governing body like the Aztec. Instead, independent city-states shared many traits and beliefs that categorized them as Maya.  (Genry Joil. 1998)


The theory that is generally accepted is that the “Olmec “, Mayans’ ancestors came to America crossing the Behring Strait at least 20,000 years ago by taking advantage of the freezing conditions that were found in this region during certain months of the year. They probably originated in the Yucatan Peninsula around 2600 B.C. They rose to prominence around A.D. 250 which is today southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, El Salvador, and northern Belize.  The Europeans were not as successful nor prosperous as the Mayans. That is why this period of time is called the “dark” age for the Eastern hemisphere habitants. The Mayans lived six times longer than the Roman Empire and built more cities than the Egyptians. The Olmec were a big influence for the Mayans.  Ideas and inventions were inherited from the Olmec such as astronomy, calendrical systems, and hieroglyphic writing. The Mayan society has been well-known for their great knowledge in architecture, building,and decorating temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories, and they did not use metal tools at all. The Mayan history is divided into three parts: Classic Period - 300-900 AD, Post Classic Period 1000 - 1500 AD – Growth and Ruin , Post Columbian Period Conquest and Rebellion (1500 AD).The Classic Period was the one in which they developed their skills in architecture and arts. They made significant discoveries in science, including the use of the zero in mathematics. They tried to define their boundaries and established territory in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. The major cities of the Classic period were Tikal (Guatemala), Palenque and Yaxchilán (Chiapas, Mexico), Copán and Quirigua (Honduras). Most of the population for most of this period lived in central lowlands of  Mexico and Belize. The Mayans were warlike and raided their neighboors for land, citizens, and captives. In the Post Classical period , writing and painting excelled while inscription in stone dropped off. Their works in art were not as impressive as the Mayans from the Classical Period, but most of the ruins found in Cancun are from this time period. This was the period in which this culture made Contact with the Spanish.  Chichen Itza (near Valladolid), Uxmal (near Merida) and Mayanspán (west of Chichen Itza) were the three most important cities during the Post Classic period. There were wars between the rival groups of Mayans over territory until the region was conquered by the Spanish. Some cities were abandoned and resettled. The Post Colombian Period- The Mayans fought the Spanish for over twenty years, but eventually succumbed. The Mayans were slaughtered fighting the Spanish but the diseases brought by these last mentioned decreased the Mayan population. They moved into villages and were forced to pay a big amount of taxes to the Spanish. There were many wars during this time period between the invaders and the Mayans trying to defend what was theirs. They resisted for many years but disease and weapons used by the Europeans made them surrender.  After fifty years of being independent, the Mayan’s lands became federal territory. For about sixty years,  half of the Eastern and Southern Peninsula remained no man’s land until the coastal development began.The Mayans were separated in a class system in which on top of everyone were the rulers or governors, then the scribes, artists, and architects. The Mayans were culturally divided in three sections: the Northern found in the Northern lowlands of Mexico, was home of the Post-Classic Period Mayans. The Central region that goes from Tabasco in the Northwest to Belize and Guatemala's Motagua River, was home of the Classical Mayans. The Southern region is where you can found clear evidence of the Mayan writing and this region was influenced by the Olmec.Their government was based in an hereditary absolute monarchy. It was run by priests, who also ruled cities, led ceremonies and performed other various tasks. Maya priests would perform these ceremonial services daily after climbing the hundreds of temple steps.” There is no evidence of a priesthood and it is likely that priestly duties were performed by the ruler.” (Julianna Kettlewell. 2004). On public occasions the king would appear dressed with white robes decorated with gold and precious stones and wearing quetzal plumes on his head. In their government they were divided positions, that are the king, who was the one who was superior from everyone and gave advice to the lords and priests. After him were the provincial governors, then rulers of towns and then the lord who were the military commanders. They were not paid but were responsible for maintaining their district. At the bottom of the social triangle were the farmers or labourers.Most Mayans were village farmers who gave two-thirds of their produce and much of their labor to the upper classes. Farmers, merchants or artisans were called plebeians A trade system existed through which salt, obsidian, jade, cacao, animal pelts, tropical bird feathers, luxury ceramics and other goods flowed. Goods from the highlands were traded with those of the lowlands. Obsidian was made into tools and weapons. People Esther bartered goods directly or exchanged them for cacao beans. The Maya farmer cultivated corn, beans, cacao, chili, maguey, bananas, and cotton, besides giving attention to bees, from which he obtained both honey and wax. Various fermented drinks were prapared from corn, maguey, and honey. Children were dependent of their parents until they had reached an age to get married. The only children who were educated were the ones from the nobility.The plebeians children were educated by them. Only different gender persons could get married and marriage could only happen between certain degree of relationship as now a days. The clothes they wore were  totally different from today’s clothes.Man only wore a cotton breechcloth wrapped around the middle and sometimes with a short sleeved shirt. Women wore a skirt and a shirt. Their hair was plaited in long tresses.  Both, man and women wore sandals. They usually had their body and face painted but were characterized by being personally very neat and clean.The Mayan were a high skilled civilization and  evidences for this are their interest in stone, stucco, jade, bone, pottery. Pottery was used for household uses and wood was used along the coast to build canoes. Their stools were made of stones.The Mayans did not use any iron except for gold ornaments and copper utensils brought from other countries. The art in which the Mayans are best known for is their architecture. Mayan art has been characterized by a great complexity Mayans architects used arch like structures with sides that extend inward until they meet at the top. They liked to express themselves artistically. Their works were made out of shell, bone and decorated with cotton textiles colourfully. All the structures built by the Mayans were in honor of their gods. All temples were built in large open areas elevated above the city so every citizen could view the religious ceremonies. Their architectural creation were perfect even if they did not have metal tools. Their temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories were extremely decorated, The interior walls were also frequently covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions carved in the stone or wood, or painted upon the plaster.The Mayans made crystal skulls sculptures with the shape of human skulls. Behind this skulls there was a meaning for everyone and now a days they are very valuable and are only displayed in very important museums like in Greece, Egypt and France. There are legends that say that Mayans keep skulls secretly hidden from the rest of the world.They supposedly contain encoded information. The Mayan writing system was a combination of phonetic symbols and ideograms. It was often called hieroglyphics because it resembled the Egyptian writing system but were actually codices. The theme of a codex (pik hu'un, in Maya), could be linked to religion, astronomy, the agricultural cycles, history, or prophecies. Codices were made out of paper just as modern books.


The paper they made was from the inner bark of fig trees, called kopó  in Mayan. They used some other materials too like cotton cloth and maguey paper but the Mayans preferred kopó. The Mayan writing system is highly sophisticated. Only the people in the nobility were able to read their symbols. Mayans recorded their work on wood and stone. Unfortunately the Spanish after conquering the Mayan regions burnt all of their works that were in books. Now a days only four codices remain. The only codices  remaining are:  The Dresden Codex, The Madrid Codex, The Paris Codex, The Grolier Codex. The information contained in these codices was used by priests or the noble class to determine dates of importance or seasonal interest. The codices probably kept track of dynastic information as well. “The contents of the codices must have varied, but some of them were evidently similar to astronomic almanacs” (Rolando Ramirez. 1997) After the Spanish burnt their books the Mayans wanted to preserve the remaining books so they chose to bury them. Researchers have found codices but because of the humidity in the Mayan region, only fragments remain. Only talented people were assigned to make the codices and they received the titles ah ts'ib and ah who which means scribes and painters. “The Maya vision of the universe is divided into multiple levels, above and below earth,positioned within the four directions of north, south, east and west. After death, the soul was believed to go to the Underworld, Xibalba (shee bal bah), a place of fright where sinister gods tested and tricked their unfortunate visitors.” (Ellie Crystal. 1995) For the Mayans every color had a meaning and was related to something like nature and the cosmos. The Mayans had a great interest in astronomy they closely observed the Sun, Venus, the Moon, and Earth and all the movements this had. “The Maya made daytime observations of Venus. Venus had a psychological effect upon the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures, it has been shown that the Maya were timing some of their wars based on the stationary points of Venus and Jupiter. Humans were sacrificed on first appearance after Superior Conjunction when Venus was at its dimmest magnitude but they most feared the first Heliacal Rising after Inferior Conjunction.” (Michel Berger.2004).The codices were books that told us how much the Mayan knew about the Sun, the Moon and the most important planets. They observed how the  Sun moved over the Earth and also could determine when eclipses would occur, it was easier for them to determine this because of their location.  The Mayans liked to give names for everything and they had God for almost everything they would praise all kinds of things. The god representing the position of the Sun was called the Diving God.  All the observations they made were passed from generation to generation. Their astronomy was most likely related to their religion.  But books the had made before were helpful and had a meaning for their astronomy. The Dresden Codex is one of them. They display the full cycle of Venus around the Earth. They counted five sets of 584 days, that is 2,920 days is approximately eight years or five repetitions of the Venus cycle. The Mayans believed that the Earth was flat and was divided in four corners each one assigned a cardinal direction with a color, east-red; north-white; west-black; south-yellow, green was the center.  They believed that in each corner there was a jaguar and each jaguar held up the sky. Also that life came from The Milky Way, a sort of tree representing the world.They believed that The Milky Way rose up from the horizon and climbed overhead tothe North and that it were all came from. The Dresden Codex contains information about the Mayan Calendar, their dating system, astronomy, hieroglyphic texts, their calculation system and many information about their gods and rituals. By observing the movements of the Moon, The Sun and other bodies the Mayans realized there were cycles in the Cosmos.  Still, now a days the Mayan astronomy for some scientists is a puzzle with no clues or answers. From this observations  they  came up with a calendar that could accurately measure the solar year within days. “The Maya kept time with a combination of several cycles that meshed together to mark the movement of the sun, moon and Venus. “ (Michel Berger. 2004)The "Calendar Round" is like two gears that inter-mesh, one smaller than the other.One of the 'gears' is called the tzolkin, or Sacred Round. The other is the haab, or Calendar Round. This consists of thirteen months, each twenty days long and five rest days making 365 days just like our calendar. As the   wheels turned the Mayans’ years passed. A day was called a "kin", and still is today. A twenty day month was a "uinal",one solar year was a "tun", twenty “tuns” a "katun", and twenty “katuns” were a "baktun" . The Mayans had a calendar composed of 260 days, known as the Tzolkin. It pairs the numbers from one through thirteen with a sequence of the twenty day-names. Itworks something like our days of the week pairing with the numbers of the month.  Each

day in the Mayan twenty day names was represented by a different symbol.  The Mayans gave us the basic ideas for the calendar we use today.The Mayan numeric system was slightly different from ours. Instead of the ten  digits used today, the Maya used a base number of twenty. A great concept that was given to us by the Mayans was the concept of the zero. They wrote it like a shell.  They also used a system of bar and dot as "shorthand" for counting. A dot stood for one and a bar stood for five. Numbers were written from bottom to top. Fractions were not used. Maya merchants often used cocoa beans, which they laid out on the ground, to do their calculations. It was very easy to add and subtract using this number system, but they did not use fractions. the calendar was behind the structure of the number system. Of course, there was also an influence in the other direction, and the base of the number system twenty played a major role in the structure of the calendar.

The art of the Mayans, as with every civilization, is a reflection of their lifestyle andculture. One great evidence of the Mayans great ability for the architecture and art is thehieroglyphic stairway located in Copan, Honduras. It is composed of statues, figures andramps. One of the most common themes painted on Maya vases is the royal audience.Clothing styles and decorative patterning, face painting, masks worn, gestures made are the most interesting details on this.. The splendid ruins of temples, pyramids, and great cities were the wonder and admiration of many travellers in America. “Limestone structures, faced with lime stucco, were the hallmark of ancient Maya architecture. The Maya developed several unique building innovations, including the corbel arch which was a false arch achieved by stepping each successive block, fromopposite sides, closer to the center, and capped at the peak” (Ellie Crystal. 1995).A perfect invention that the Mayans created was the Temple of Tikal, it was atemple that at the top had an arch in which the sun went through it. For the Maya there was a time for everything and every thing had it's place in time.Traditionally, it is believed that Maya Indians were the first ones to indulge the taste of chocolate. They worshipped the God of cocoa. Only the "chosen" people were allowedto consume the sacred drink.The Mayan ball game is a perfect example of what the Mayans believed in.  it consistedin using their hips, legs and the head to get a ball across a line or through a hoop. The Mayans worshiped the Sun as a god by playing this game.  The ironic thing about this is game is that not as today the winners are the ones that get a prize and the honor. In the Mayan times they winners were killed in honor for their gods.  One very important discovery of the scientists has been Copan. It is located in the west of Honduras. This iswhere the Mayan civilization flourished. Now a days it is called “Copan Ruins” or in Spanish “Ruinas de Copán”. Copan is a beautiful town, surrounded by a jungle.  By some it is called a small Mayan town, because it actually is a Mayan city hidden and forgotten. It is visited by many tourists every year.  It is considered to be one of the greatest treasures Honduras has. In Copan you can find the lost Mayan civilization. You can visit the temples, see the altars and the beautiful statues that are found in Copan.


Anthropologists were researching under  some structures when they found the famous hieroglyphic stairway in 1986 . In 1989, the famous “Rosalila” was also found.. It was called “Rosalila” because its color is like a mixture of pink and purple giving a brownish color. The building was intact so they decided to preserve the temple. Rosalila stands fourteen meters high, with a nineteen by  nineteen meter base. To prevent deterioration, the protective plaster or stucco covering has not been entirely removed. There is a replica in the Sculpture Museum in Copan, which was created within a three year period, by archaeologists and students. Presently, they have been plenty of discoveries found in Central America. The National Geographic Society has sent  some researchers to Guatemala. They have found this year, two monumental carved masks, 120 pieces of polished jade, a ceremonial centre , and Giant masks. In summary, it is true to say that The Mayans had a great influence in our society. They influenced on us with their calendar that was a perfect calendar. The Mayans invented the zero, the Romans did not use the zero and did not even know about the existence of it.  They getalso credit for their numeric system that was based in twenty numbers and not in ten likeours. Their writing system was a very complex system and was very influent in our society  They were very smart and wise Indians. Their buildings were perfect, a perfect example is the hieroglyphic stairway found in Copan. They had a very high quality constructions; the “Rosalila” is almost intact and has been preserved for thousands of years. The Mayans also influenced on us by the circle, in the Temple of Tikal by giving us the idea of the circle. The Mayans were a great influence in our society, because of the numerous influences from this historical culture, our world is a better place to live..




Berger, Michel “Mayan Astronomy” The Mayan Astronomy page 1st volume (1995) :6 Michel B’s Home Page 10 Nov. 2004 <>


Crystal, Ellie  “Mayan History”  Ancient and lost civilizations 1st volume (1995):Cristal Links 10 Nov. 2004 <>


Flaherty, Thomas. The Magnificient Maya.  Time- Life Books : Virginia , 1993.


Joil, Genry  “ Maya” Ancient civilizations 1st volume (1998) :1 The Mayans 10 Nov. 2004 <>


Kettlewell, Julianna. Maya Culture ´ahead of its time ´ BBC NEWS 8 May 2004 : 1.  Encarta Encyclopaedia.  10 November 2004 <>


Lopez, Cinthia. La Civilizacion Maya. Honduras: Tegucigalpa, 1993


Meyer, Carolynn, and Challenkamp, Charles. The Mystery of the Ancient Maya. Atheneum: Canada, 1985.


Núñez, Melissa. Vida de los Mayas y Civilizaciones olvidadas. Honduras : Tegucigalpa, 2000


Ramirez, Rolando “Copan” The Ruins page 3rd volume (1997): 8 Copan Ruins  10 Nov. 2004 <>

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