Today where the rain forests of Guatemala now stand, a great civilization once flourished. The ancient Maya once occupied a vast geographic area in Central America. Their civilization extended to parts of what is now Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, and most of Guatemala and Belize.
The Maya or the Mayan is basically a Mesoamerican civilization, distinguished and highly renowned for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, along with its art, agriculture, and mathematical and astronomical systems.
The earliest phase of Maya civilization started approximately 3000 BCE, at a time when ancient societies started to emerge in Egypt, China, India, Mesopotamia, and Assyria. Large, complex Maya sites have been dated to 500-200 BCE. This clearly indicated the growth and development in this civilization beyond many others.
Ancient Mayan Important Facts
The ancient Maya were living in extremely lavish cities of stone with high pyramids and extensive plazas decorated with intricate carvings as the Roman Empire was fading. Several extensive and beautiful stone cities of the Maya were discarded by A.D. 900, however, and since the 19th century scholars have debated what might have caused this dramatic decline.
The earliest Maya were farming, growing crops such as corn (maize), beans, squash and cassava (manioc). During the Middle Pre classic Period, which lasted until about 300 B.C., Maya farmers expanded their existence both in the highland and lowland regions.
The Middle Preclassic Period also saw the ascend of the first major Mesoamerican civilization, the Olmecs. Like other Mesamerican peoples, such as the Zapotec, Totonac, Teotihuacán and Aztec, the Maya was a resultant of a number of religious and cultural traits--as well as their number system and their famous calendar--from the Olmec.
Ancient Maya Civilization
The Maya civilization was certainly never an "empire", in as much as one person never reigned the entire region or kingdom. During the Classic period, there were many strong kings at Tikal, Calakmul, Caracol and Dos Pilas, but none of them ever subjugated the others.
It can rather be expressly implied that the Mayan Civilzation was a collection of independent city states, who shared some ritual and ceremonial practices, some architecture, some cultural objects. The city states traded with one another, and with the Olmec and Teotihuacan polities (at different times), and they also warred with one another from time to time.
The Mayan people were pious, and prayed to various gods related to nature, including the gods of the sun, the moon, rain and corn. The Kings were the highest, or "kuhul ajaw" (holy lords), who claimed to be related to gods and followed a hereditary succession.
They were thought to serve as mediators between the gods and people on earth, and performed the elaborate religious ceremonies and rituals so important to the Maya culture.
From the late eighth through the end of the ninth century, something unknown happened to shake the Maya civilization to its foundations. Serious exploration of Classic Maya site started in the 1830s.
By the early to mid-20th century, a small section of their system of hieroglyph writing had been deciphered, and more about their history and culture became known. Most of what historians know about the Maya comes from what remains of their architecture and art, including stone carvings and inscriptions on their buildings and monuments.
The Maya also made paper from tree bark and wrote in books made from this paper, known as codices; four of these codices are known to have survived
Some scholars are of the opinion that by the ninth century the Maya had fatigued the environment around them to the point that it could no longer prolong a very large population. Other Maya scholars argue that constant warfare among competing city-states led the complicated military, family (by marriage) and trade alliances between them to break down, along with the traditional system of dynastic power.