The Maya are an ancient civilization dating back to around 2000 BCE. This civilization lived in what is today known as southern México, Guatemala, and Belize.
Most Mayan cities reached their peak development between 250 CE and 900 CE. They interacted heavily with the surrounding civilizations through trade and cultural exchange. They had no central government, but many smaller governments that produced fruitful societies.
The Maya were an innovation people and developed sophisticated concepts before neighboring tribes. They had the only fully-developed writing system of MesoAmerica and exhibited great skill in art, architecture, math, and astronomy. Their calendar was highly accurate and their pyramids were impressive feats of engineering.
The Maya believed in many gods and often participated in rituals and ceremonies involving human sacrifice. They believed in strong ties between the Earth’s cycles and their gods, which is why many of their religious rituals revolved around nature and astronomy.
The Mayan civilization never disappeared, despite the Spanish conquest. They did however, abandon their impressive cities in favor of smaller settlements. Today, the descendants of the Maya maintain a sizable population, practice similar agricultural methods, and speak the Maya languages.
Text by Maisie Bornstein & Lindsay Clark.
Image of the Maya archaeological site of Palenque taken by Peter Andersen.