Mayan 200-1200

Major Accomplishments: Classical society in Meso America, powerful cultural unifier for the region; built great Pyramids

Mayan Video:

Mayan Dynasty Overview

The Mayan Dynasty began around 2600BC. and had many great accomplishments such as creating a calendar and creating the idea of zero as a place holder. The calendar helped the Mayans keep track of important dates as well as astronomical discoveries. Today, the idea of a calendar is still used as well as some of the predictions the Mayans had written down. The Mayans invented zero because they understood the concept of zero and found it necessary to have an object as a place holder. The concept of zero helped make their math very accurate and complex. The decline however isn’t really known although we do have many assumptions about the possible causes.


Mayan Social Organization

First and foremost, the start of the Mayan dynasty came to be because of many small Central American tribes. One of their greatest discoveries was astronomy the Mayans had great and superior knowledge on the subject. With this knowledge they were able to create calendars and tell time along with other astronomical changes. Mayans liked to keep organization they had many city-states that were ruled by kings. The organization of their social class consist of having the king/emperor on top of the social pyramid followed by the priest which was then followed by commoners and at eh bottom of the pyramid they had salves.  Having such a great social organization contributed with everyone doing their part in society and help mold a great future for their civilization.


Mayan Temples

Furthermore, the Mayans had many great leaders that led them into many successful time periods. Yik'in Chan K'awiil, for example, built one of the greatest temples known. Within this temple are many Mayan artifacts and stories that help us depict of the events that had happened during their time of rule. Inside this temple they also had many pictographs which were the first form of writing known. These temples also served as a place where sacrifice was held. Sacrifice was very important to the Mayans they believed that with a sacrifice they would get the gods on their side and in return the gods would bless them with good crops and good luck with anything. Sacrifices were held on special occasions to please the many gods they had.


Reasons for Mayan Decline

To conclude, although the Mayan civilization was successful in many aspects it still had its defects that lead to its decline and end of rule. There are many theories about the decline but none of them have been proven. The first theory is that the Mayans had worn out the environment around them to the point that it could no longer uphold a very large population. The Mayan population had multiplied greatly within the years. This lead to a higher demand for food and more crop planting leaving little to no space for other activities. The second speculation as to why they declined was warfare. There was always a constant conflict between many competing city-states. The war between city-states caused many trade alliances to diminish along with the traditional system of dynastic power. The last possible reason for decline was drought. Water was a great necessity to the Mayans because not only was it needed for drinking but it was also used to irrigate crops-- which were especially hard.


Mayan Civilization Cult of the Jaguar

Maya Timeline

  • c. 1500  Olmec Civilization
  • c. 750 Writing is developed in Mesoamérica.
  • c. 420 The earliest known solar calendars
  • 100     The city of Teotihuacán forms;  cultural, religious and trading centre of Mesoamérica.
  • c. 150 The decline of the Olmecs.
  • 400     The Maya highlands fall under the domination of Teotihuacán, and the disintegration of Maya culture and language begins in some parts of the highlands.
  • 500     Tikal becomes the first great Maya city
  • 751     Long-standing Maya alliances begin to break down. Trade between Maya city-states declines, and inter-state conflict increases.
  • 899     Tikal is abandoned.
  • 900     The Classic Period of Maya history ends, with the collapse of the southern lowland cities. Maya cities in the northern Yucatán continue to thrive.
  • 1224   The Northern Maya city of Chichén Itzá is abandoned by the Toltecs.
  • The Itzá people settle in the deserted area.


Only 20% of ruins have been uncovered and researched so more is to come

Mayan Political Systems

  • City states united in a loose confederacy
  • Ruled by powerful semi-divine kings called halach uinic  ("True Man") and his lesser nobles
  • Nobles own most of the land and are the important merchants
  • Priests
  • Maintained an elaborate calendar and transmitted knowledge of writing, astronomy, and mathematics
  • Population largely rural used cities for primarily relgious centers
  • War
  • Mayan kingdoms fought constantly with each other and warriors won tremendous prestige by capturing high-ranking enemies
  • Captives were usually made slaves, humiliated, tortured, and ritually sacrificed
  • Tikal is the capital city
  • Tikal was the most important Mayan political center between the 4th and 9th Centuries
  • Meeting place for all Mayan city states on important astronomical/religious dates
  • 40,000 people lived here


Mayan Economic Systems

  • Agricultural society
  • Terrace farming
  • Shifting cultivation
  • Grew Maize, cacao
  • Architects, sculptors, Potters
  • Cacao used as money
  • Merchants traded in luxury goods like jade, fancy textiles and animal pelts

Mayan Religion

  • Polytheistic; gods made people out of maize and water
  • Human Blood Sacrifice and ceremony keep the gods happy so they keep the world going and agriculture good
  • Mayan Ball Game
  • Winners live losers sacrificed to the gods
  • Human Sacrifice and
    Bloodletting Rituals
  • Bloodletting involved both war captives and Mayan royals
  • Bloodletting involved pircing the tongue and/or genitals and dripping the blood down a rope into a bowl before offering it to the gods
  • Religious Ritual
  • Killing animals, slaves, children, and prisoners of war were important parts of their culture
  • occurred on important dates, when priests demanded it, or as punishment for crimes.
  • Burned copal resin along with the sacrifice, creating more smoke and a sweet smell.
  • Offerings to the spirits were to insure agricultural success.
  • Priests –
    • responsible for keeping calendar, holding ceremonies to the gods and Human sacrifice
    • Most important Priest called Ah Kin Mai  ("The Highest One of the Sun")
    • ruled over priests below him (called Ah Kin  , "The Ones of the Sun").
  • There were two special priestly functions involved in human sacrifice: the chacs, who were elderly men that held down the victim, and the nacon, who cut the living heart from the victim.
  • Mayan After life
  •  The Mayas believed in an elaborate afterlife, but heaven was reserved for those who had been hanged, sacrificed, or died in childbirth. Everyone else went to xibal, or hell, which was ruled over by the Lords of Death.

Mayan Social Hierarchy

  • King and ruling family
  • Priests
  • Hereditary nobility (from which came the merchant class)þ
  • Warriors
  • Professionals and artisans
  • Peasants
  • Slaves

Mayan beauty

  • prized a long, backward sloping forehead
  • infants would have their skulls bound with boards.
  • Crossed-eyes favored
  • infants would have objects dangled in front of their eyes in order to permanently cross their eyes (this is still practiced today).

Mayan Intellectual Developments

  • astronomy, calendrical systems, hieroglyphic writing, ceremonial architecture, and masonry without metal tools
  • Could plot planetary cycles and predict eclipses of the sun and moon
  • Invented the concept of zero and used a symbol to represent zero mathematically, which facilitated the manipulation of large numbers
  • calculated the length of the solar year at 365.242 days– about 17 seconds shorter than the figure reached by modern

Maya Number System

  • Mayan Calendar
  • Interwove two kinds of year
  • A solar year of 365 days governed the agricultural cycle
  • A ritual year of 260 days governed daily affairs by organizing time into twenty “months” of thirteen days each
  • Mayan Art
  • Writing
  • ideographic elements and symbols for syllables
  • Used to write works of history, poetry, and myth and keep genealogical, administrative, and astronomical records

Mayan Decline

  • By about 800, most Mayan populations had begun to desert their cities
  • Full scale decline followed everywhere but in the northern Yucatan
  • Possible causes include foreign invasion, internal dissension and civil war, failure of the water control system leading to agricultural disaster, ecological problems caused by destruction of the forests, epidemic diseases, and natural disasters

Mayan Dynasty Multiple Choice Questions:

1. Which was not true of the Mayan civilization?

a.       they are a continuation of the Olmecs

b.       they were ruled by a king called the Halach

c.       their city states were loosely united

d.       they invented paper


2. Which of the following best describes the Mayan political systems?

a.       Monarchy (hereditary)

b.       Tyranny (cruel absolutely powerful rulers)

c.       Loosely grouped city-states with a common religion

d.       Feudal regional kingdoms


3. What was the purpose for human sacrifice and bloodletting?

a.       To manage the population by sacrificing Mayan people and taking their blood to paint


b.       A contest for the most collection of blood by human sacrifice.

c.       A sacrifice to the gods

d.       they believed the blood helped their crops grow rapidly


4. Which of the following is NOT a likely reason for the decline of the Mayans?

a.       climate change

b.       animal attacks

c.       natural disasters

d.       widespread war


5. Which of the following is not a part of the Mayan civilization?

a.       the nobles owned most of the land and were often important merchants

b.       they had a Tikal which was their religious capitol.

c.       They had their own calendar which was on a system of 365 to 260 days.

d.       They had a caste system similar to the Hindu