Mayan History and Civilization

[O]ur knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrim’s Progress).” – Michael Coe (Prominent Archeologists, Yale University)

Mayan History narrates the rich history of the Mayan inhabitants who lived in southern Mexico and northern Central America around 3,000 years ago. It was a colorful and rich culture before Mexico and the nearby regions were conquered by Spain. The Mayan civilization is one of the prominent civilizations of Mesoamerica and it was established around 2600 BC in Yucatan. Southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Northern Belize and the western region of Honduras belonged to the Mayan empire during the 3rd century A.D.

Historians believe the forefathers of the Mayans must have crossed the Bering Strait around 20,000 years ago. The ancestors of this civilization were nomadic hunters. The evidence of this has been found in Mexico during the archaic period.

History of Mayan Civilization

The history of Mayan Civilization is divided into pre-classic period, classic period and the post classic period.

Pre-classic Period (1500 BC – 300 AD)

The Mayan civilization was established with rise of the Olmecs. They had settled on the Gulf Coast. Olmecs were the inventors of the Mesoamerican calendar and hieroglyphic writings. Nothing much is known about the Olmecs. It is still a mystery whether the Mayans were true descendants of the Olmecs.

Classic Period (300 AD – 900 AD)

During the Classic period Mayans developed a very complex and a hierarchical society on the basis of the professions. The head of the government system was the King. Some of the major and significant cities of the Classic period were Quirigua, Chiapas, Palenque and Yaxchil. During this period the Mayan settlements were populated in the regions of central Mexico and Belize.

Post-Classic Period (1000 AD – 1500 AD)

In Post-Classic Period, the Mayas migrated to the Yucat peninsula. However, the culture and accomplishments of this period were not impressive as that of the Mayan civilization of the Classic period. The cities of significant importance during this era were Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Mayap. Mayans had abandoned the city of Chichen Itza sometime in 900 BC and resettled there after a century. During this period the Mayans were invaded by Toltecs and for some unknown reasons this city was abandoned again in 1300 AD. Historians had excavated many Mayan and Toltec gods such as Chac and Quetzacoatl.

The Spanish attacked Mayan settlements during the 1520 AD. This led to the decline of the once glorious and rich civilization.

Mayan Culture

One of the major profession practiced by the Mayan were weaving. Mayans were skilled in weaving baskets and making potteries. The art and architecture of the Mayan civilization reached its zenith during the Classic Period. The glory of their culture is displayed in the carvings, murals and stucco reliefs at Copan and Palenque.

The Spanish invaders destroyed many of the Mayan books. Currently there are only three books and a few pages of the fourth book of the Mayan times available. The Mayans discovered the number zero and they used the numbering system of base 20.

Mayan civilization was one of the powerful and rich civilizations in the world. This civilization met with a decline when Spain colonized Mexico, Guatemala and the neighboring regions. However, even today there is a small Mayan population residing in the rural parts of Guatemala and Belize. They still speak the Mayan language and follow the Mayan culture and tradition.