Ancient Maya

The ancient Maya is one of the most fascinating civilizations, known for its art, architecture, and astronomy, among other distinctions. Mayan cities developed during the pre-classic and classic periods of history, from approximately 2000 BC, into the post-classic period when the Spanish arrived in the New World, around the sixteenth century. The history of the Maya is one of the most intriguing of all ancient civilizations, and it is remembered for being particularly culturally dynamic. Travelers hoping to discover more about this ancient civilization can visit the Mayan ruins, read about Mayan mythology, or even learn about Mayan astrology.

The location of the Ancient Maya extended from present-day southern Mexico through Central America, including Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and into Honduras. Debates over the precise beginnings of Mayan cities continue as new discoveries are made and carbon dated. There is a rich variety of information on the history of the Maya starting with the classic period, when large-scale construction took place. This period, from about 250 through 900 AD, was known for its intellectual and artistic achievements as well. Important monuments from this period include step pyramids, where the Mayan religion was practiced.

Palaces of rulers are also interesting monuments from Ancient Maya. The largest of the Maya area is the palace at Cancun. Over the years, historians have learned a great deal about Mayan rulers from hieroglyphic texts that provide details on military victories and other important achievements. There is also evidence to suggest that the Mayans had long-distance trade with other ancient civilizations, such as the Aztecs and Teotihuacan. Important goods for trading included gold, salt, and precious stones.

Mayan Cities experienced decline for several reasons. During the eighth and ninth centuries, the cities in the southern lowlands declined, and shortly thereafter they were abandoned. Like many aspects of the ancient Mayan civilization, reasons for this are widely debated. Some theories include drought, foreign invasion, disease, or climate change. During the post-classic period, from about the tenth through the sixteenth centuries, Mayan cities remained in the north. The important sites of this area included Chichen Itza, Coba, Tulum, Copan, and Uxmal, all of which are in Mexico. Tikal, in Guatemala, is one of the largest Mayan sites in the world. A dark period in the history of the Maya followed with the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, as the native population declined greatly due to disease and warfare.

While the Colonial period was ultimately successful, from the European perspective, it took a great deal of time for the Spanish to overtake the Mayans. The Spanish fought for more than 150 years to control all of the Mayan lands. One of the challenges for the Spanish was the fact that the Mayans had many independent centers. Unlike the Aztecs or the Incas, the Mayans were powerful in more than one place, and they could form a resistance quickly in a different area than had been conquered. One of the most devastating facts about this period is that the Spanish church and government destroyed much of the writing from the Mayan people, thus destroying the possibility of learning more about the civilization. Historians are left to interpret the art, architecture, and city planning of the Mayans for clues about how they lived, but the resources are relatively scarce when compared with the European sources.

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