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The Maya are an indigenous people of Mexico and Central America who have continuously inhabited the lands comprising modern-day Yucatan, Mexico and southward through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The name Maya comes from the ancient Yucatan city of Mayapan, the people’s last capital before the civilization’s downfall.

Here are 42 awesome facts about the ancient Mayans.


31. Mysterious Maya

The Mayan civilization suffered several catastrophic collapses through their history. Archaeologists have failed to identify the reason behind the abandonment of many large cities in the 2nd and 10th century. Though referred to as a collapse, these events did not mark the end of the Mayan civilization.

Mayan Empire Facts

30. End Of The World

Mayan calendar was designed with the alignment of the stars in mind. The end of the Mayan calendar didn’t mean that the world was ending, that simply a new astrological age was beginning.

Mayan Empire Facts

Mayan Calendar

29. Long Time Ago

Mayans believed that the Earth was created in 3114 BC. This specific date coincides with the Mayan Calendar.

Mayan Empire Facts

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28. First Come

The earliest Mayan settlement dates back to 1800 BC. The earliest Maya were farmers and grew maize, beans, squash and cassava. First major Mayan civilization, the Olmec, created the famous Mayan Calendar.

Mayan Empire Facts

27. Beauty Standards

Mayans had many strange beauty standards that required body modification. One such practice was flattening the forehead by placing a plank of wood on a child’s forehead over a long period of a time.

Mayan Empire Facts

26. Hey Good Looking

Mayans also believed that having crossed-eyes meant you were favoured by their sun god Kinich Ahau, who was also cross-eyed. Children would have objects dangled between their eyes in the hopes that it would artificially cross their eyes permanently.

Mayan Empire Facts

25. Namesake

Mayan children were named after the day of the year they were born. Each day in a Mayan calendar year had a different name, so it’s not like there were a bunch of Mondays running around.

Mayan Empire Facts

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24. Smells Fishy

By today’s standards a big nose isn’t desirable, but the Mayans thought a large nose was the peak of beauty. Mayan citizens with smaller noses would wear prosthetic noses made of clay over their own to give their nose the right shape and size.

Mayan Empire Facts

23. Bling Bling

Mayans loved jewellery. Though many materials were used to fashion their jewellery out of, the Mayans had a special place in their hearts for Gold and Jade. Who doesn’t?

Mayan Empire Facts

22. Inked

Mayans practiced tattooing, among other forms of body modification. Both Mayan men and women would get tattoos, but men would often wait until after they were married, and would tattoo their arms, legs, backs and faces. Women would get smaller tattoos on their upper body, save their faces and breasts.

Mayan Empire Facts

21. Grills

Mayan men, and sometimes women, would visit dentists to beautify their smiles with Jade. Small holes were drilled into their teeth by skilled dentists, who would then place the semi-precious gems in their teeth and secure it with an adhesive. This practice was not exclusive to any particular class.

Mayan Empire Facts

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20. Chompers

Mayans believed teeth to be an important part of a beautiful appearance, just not the same way we do. Aside from encrusting their teeth with gems, they also sharpened them to a point. Sometimes teeth were filed to specific designs to designate higher classes of individuals.

Mayan Empire Facts

19. Painkiller

As you can imagine, drilling and filing teeth is a painful procedure to endure. That’s why the Mayans used special herbal remedies to act as anaesthetics which would be applied to the patient prior to the procedure beginning.

Mayan Empire Facts

18. Tripping Out

Mayans also used hallucinogens found in the native plants, sometimes for medicinal purposes, but most often for religious purposes.

Mayan Empire Facts

17. Is There A Doctor Here?

Mayans were thought to have excellent medical practices that ranged from general medicine men to specialists for childbirth, bone setting, and even dentistry. These doctors not only cured diseases, but sometimes were paid to cause and spread them.

Mayan Empire Facts

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16. Sacrifices Must Be Made

Mayans performed ritualistic human sacrifice for a number of reasons ranging from religious to medical ceremonies. It was considered an honor to be sacrificed, and the sacrificing was usually done by cutting just under the ribs and removing the still beating heart.

Mayan Empire Facts

15. Play Ball

Games involving balls have been around for ages, and Mayans are no different. Mayans had a game where a ball had to be hit through a hoop, similar to basketball. The only catch was you couldn’t use your hands and feet, only your body. These games often ended in human sacrifice. Since being sacrificed was considered an honor, it’s unsure whether the winners or losers were sacrificed.

Mayan Empire Facts

14. Hot In Here

Mayans were among the first cultures to use saunas. Saunas were used by Mayans for healing purposes, and were hated by the Spanish Conquistadores who were against any form of sanitation at the time.

Mayan Empire Facts

13. City Planner

Mayan cities expanded haphazardly, upward and outward. Buildings were built over top of existing buildings, and very little planning went into the building and layout of their cities.

Mayan Empire Facts

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12. Starry Night

The only buildings that were planned in advance in Mayan cities were their pyramids, palaces, and ceremonial ball-courts. These buildings were aligned with the stars, and allowed for star gazing.

Mayan Empire Facts

11. Star-ter Pack

Mayans were obsessive astronomers, and astronomy used as a calendar, with the appearance of certain constellations or planets triggering the start of planting season. This job was held by astronomer-priests who held a great deal of power, since they could essentially “predict” the future.

Mayan Empire Facts

10. Godly

Mayans were all about that astronomy life, and firmly believed that the stars and the moon were gods. Celestial events were considered communication with these gods, and the actions of the civilization were directly tied to celestial movements.

Ancient Mayan Facts

9. City Life

The Mayan city of Mirador was one of the greatest cities ever built in pre-Columbian America. The city was built around a set of 3 Mayan pyramids.

Ancient Mayan Facts

Ruins of El Mirador

The largest of these 3 pyramids, La Danta has a peak that is taller than that of Khufu, the tallest of the Great Egyptian Pyramids. La Danta is now hidden away under a thick canopy, and not accessible to tourists like the Great Pyramids are.

Mayan Empire Facts

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8. Big Time

The Mayan city of Tikal was the largest of any Mayan city, spanning over 124 square kilometres. Tikal was abandoned like many other great Mayan cities during the second Mayan collapse.

Mayan Empire Facts

7. Book Worms

Mayans were among the first to record history in books. The books they used were screen-folds, similar to folded up posters you find in magazines in present day. The pages for these books were made with the inner bark of wild fig trees.

Mayan Empire Facts

6. Burning Books

After the Spanish Conquistadors successful campaign against the Mayans, the majority of their books were destroyed. It’s thought that Mayans had collectively written over 10,000 books. Today, only a hand full remain.

Mayan Empire Facts

5. Math Matters

Mayans made many strides in the world of abstract math. Their vigesimal math system is a base 20 system (vs our base 10) and it allowed them to make their now famous calendar.

Mayan Empire Facts

4. Head Ache

Mayans used hieroglyphs, similar to the Egyptians, to write. Mayan hieroglyphs was one of the most complex systems on Earth. Despite their complexity, historians have been able to decipher most of the symbols.

Mayan Empire Facts

3. The end of an empire

Experts in the Mayan history simply do not have enough solid information to state with clear-cut certainty how the Maya civilization ended. The downfall of the ancient Maya was likely caused by some combination of famine, drought, and change in environment brought on by deforestation for farm land. This likely caused neighbouring cities to turn on each other causing civil strife. It took over 200 years for the civilization to fail completely.

Mayan Empire Facts

2. Gone But Not Forgotten

The Mayans were not completely wiped out. Many people of Mayan ancestry still live in South America, and some have migrated to other parts of the world.

Mayan Empire Facts

1. God Of Death

Many present day Mayans still live a traditional Mayan life, including ritualistic sacrifice. Since sacrificing humans is taboo now, the Mayans now sacrifice animals to their gods. Definitely not vegan.

Mayan Civilization Facts

For factaholics who love ancient civilizations, check out this video on the 10 Ancient Empires Who Almost Conquered the World:

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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