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.
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.
29. Long Time Ago
Mayans believed that the Earth was created in 3114 BC. This specific date coincides with the Mayan Calendar.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
18. Tripping Out
Mayans also used hallucinogens found in the native plants, sometimes for medicinal purposes, but most often for religious purposes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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