Humble Beginning

Maya

Tikal

Arguably the most successful ancient civilization in the Mesoamerican region. The mayans had a very humble beginning.

Hunter gatherers in Mesoamerica, slowly formed farming villages thousands of years prior to the first major mayan cities. Evidence of these hunter gatherers and settlers has been dated to around 7000 B.C. 

Cultural ties to the Maya have been linked to villages in western Guatemala as far back as 2500 B.C. 

Ancient Neighbors

Olmec

Olmec Colossal Head

The Olmec people were an ancient Mesoamerican group who flourished from around 1600-1000 B.C. centered on an area of the Gulf Coast region in what is now the states of Veracruz and Tabasco.

They were engaged in trade and crafts with other Mesoamerican civilizations and developed sophisticated astronomical, geometric, and numerical systems.

Known as the “rubber people” The Olmec are even more mysterious than the Maya. With controversial colossal stone heads, and carvings of bearded men. 

The Maya undoubtedly inherited and carried on traditions from the Olmec, despite no evidence of being dominated by them.

Zapotec

Gran Plaza from the South platform, Edificio J in front

The Zapotec, another major civilization dominated the region in what is now Oaxaca, Mexico for approximately 1000 years.

A little over 100 miles away from the Olmec, they had a very similar culture. 

In the first century B.C. to the far north, in central Mexico, the Aztecs were beginning their legendary history as well. 

Mayan Timeline 

Due to their cultural, scientific, religious and geographical importance they have been studied extensively by archaeologists for many years.

Mayan history is divided into three periods Pre Classic, Classic, and Post Classic. These periods roughly define the beginning, middle, and end of their civilization. 

Pre Classic Period

The Mayan civilization originated in what is modern day Mexico, and Central America. The formal beginning of the Maya civilization happened in 600 B.C. in the Peten region of northern Guatemala, with the establishment of the city Nakbe. Other major sites in the area like El Mirador, Uaxactun, and Cival also flourished in this period. From their humble beginning, the Maya became skilled astronomers and traders launching their civilization into greatness.

Classic Period

Palenque

The Palace at Palenque

As previously stated the Maya civilization flourished between the years 250 and 900 A.D. The Mayans were made up of several independent Kingdoms or city states, and stretched from the Yucatan, as far down as El Salvador and Honduras.

The Maya city of Tikal, located in Guatemala, is thought to have been the largest in the region at the time. Some even argue that it may have been the largest city in the world. Archaeologists now estimating that as many as 10 million people occupied the area at its height.

The Maya civilization was based around the Mayan Long Count calendar, which had a 13,000 year cycle. The Maya civilization developed an advanced writing system, and transformed it into a highly sophisticated script, along with a very advanced astronomical calendar, which were all used as part of a calendar cycle. In fact the Maya had three consecutive 13,000 year cycles, one of which was when their Mayan calendar would start and end.

The most famous sites in this area were Tikal, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, and Copan. Bonampak Calakmul, Caracol (c. 1200 to 1350 AD) are considered the most important cultural centers during this period.

The city at Chichén Itzá, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world. It

was of considerable size and influence for its time and had survived several wars until its destruction in 1540 by the Spanish conquest of Yucatán. It was a powerful city, not only due to its population, but due to its natural resources and strategic location on a number of trade routes.

For a long period, it was the most important center in the ancient Mayan civilization. It is particularly renowned for its massive pyramid, the temple of Kukulkan.

However the Maya civilization had their fair share of damage and conflict. This unfortunately contributed to their inevitable decline. But the Maya had a lasting legacy that still influences many cultures in the region today.

Post Classic Period 

Mayan City

Mayapan

The Post Classic city Mayapan is located in the Yucatán Peninsula and is characterized by various artistic symbols, like the shell-patterned facades and the mirror reflecting facades. It is one of the most popular archaeological sites in the Yucatán. Mayapan was discovered in the late 15th century, and has been considered the most important of all the pre-Columbian Maya archaeological sites, after the city of Palenque. Archeologists believe that Mayapan was the capital of the civilization in this Post Classic period.

The Mayans constructed some of the largest and best-preserved ancient cities in the Americas. They left behind an amazing amount of history.  Although shrouded in mystery, archaeologists are making new discoveries every year. 

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