The Mayan Empire was one of the most innovative and interesting civilizations. It was an ancient civilization that was one of the most advanced and innovative ones. They inhabited the Yucatan peninsula and the empire lasted for about 3500 years ending around the year 1500 AD. It is considered the greatest civilization among the original cultures of the western hemisphere.
The empire was located in what is now known as Central America. They lived in the area that is now Belize, Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. The whole area lies south of the tropic of cancer, and north of the equator. It contained over 120,000 sq miles, which is about the size of Great Britain, or a little bit smaller than California. It is believed that the Mayan empire contained over one million people. It is mainly hot, and a large rainforest has developed there.
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The main basis of the economy was agriculture with most people being farmers. The primary crop was maize. Other crops raised were cotton, beans, squash, and cacao. Cotton was used to make clothing since the Mayans had superior skills in spinning, weaving, and dyeing. They made major farming innovations such as irrigation systems. The climate is very hot from May to August and rainy through the rest of the year, so the farmers have a lot of free time to serve the king. This serving time helped make the amazing developments from the Maya.
By far, the major innovations and skills were in astronomy. Mayan priests would consistently take measurements using tools such as a forked stick. Using their amazing astronomical knowledge, they were able to predict future eclipses. They were also able to chart the complex motions of the sun and other astronomical bodies. Using this knowledge, they designed a calendar that was the most complex and accurate of all ancient calendars. In fact, it was only 19 minutes per year off from the actual calendar. It even contained month and week divisions. One of these months was only five days long, called the Wayeb, and was considered unlucky.
In mathematics, the Mayans were quite intelligent. They developed a number system using a combination of dots and bars. These dots and bars were stacked together in piles of twenty, with the dot meaning one and the bar meaning five. They also made the original discovery of the number zero. This is a very important development.
They also developed an advanced system of writing similar to Egyptian Hieroglyphics. They contained over 800 signs, and each one usually represented an entire word. It was very visual language and the meaning of the sign reflected what it looked like. Their writing was highly sophisticated; only members of the higher classes were able to read their symbols. The Maya carved these symbols into stone, but the most commonplace for writing was probably the highly perishable books they made from bark paper, coated with lime to make a fresh white surface. These “books” were screen-folded and bound with wood and deer hide. They are called codices, plural for codex. Because of their perishable nature and zealous Spanish book burning, only four codices remain today. The contents of the codices must have varied, but some of them were like astronomic almanacs.
A large part of Mayan life was art. The art was a reflection of their civilization and culture. Some types of art included painting on paper and plaster, carving on wood and stone, and creating stucco models. The language was also like art. The language actually consisted of pictures and drawings.
In both the priesthood and kingship, power was passed down from generation to generation. The kings were believed to be gods on earth, and this gave them the power to rule. There was a religious explanation that explained that having a ruler was essential for the continuance of the universe. The kings were also believed to be able to enter meditative states where they receive instructions from the gods.
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