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The Mayan Civilization Research Paper


It is a grueling task to construct and connect all the remnants of the distant past of a civilization. But connecting the distant past of the ancient Mayan civilization is a special fascination. The secrets of the civilization are deeply buried in the tropical forests of the Central America. To the historians, the only seeable Mayan architectural designs and sculptures seems to be alien and bizarre “(Robin: 2001:19)”. Indeed, unfolding the calendar backwards to unravel the mysterious civilization is what makes it bizarre.

The Mayan people

The Mayan people and culture existed over two centuries ago. In fact, the Mayans were believed to have originated from a splinter group of Israelis or a splinter tribe of the Atlantis. After migrating from Asia through the Bering straight, they travelled south establishing themselves in Central America.

The Maya established their civilization in Latin America in what is currently known as the southern part of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras “(Welker: 1998:1)”. The Mayan society was highly stratified with distinct classes that every Mayan could fit in. Basically, each and every class had different resources and power. Wealth was indeed shared on the basis of stratification with the wealthy occupying the upper class. They were also the powerful and ideally formed the ruling class.

The Mayan culture

Mayans achieved their highly regarded intellectual and artistic heights within a pan of six centuries. The intellectual and artistic capability was evidenced through glamorous cities and splendid mega temples. Their ingenious advancement in astronomy and mathematics was beyond the imagination of the modern days’ scientists.

The Mayan economical, political and cultural peak marked the prosperous and most interesting times in the history of Latin America. During this period the Mayan people achieved the intellectual and artistic heights that no modern day people and cultures had ever thought to be possible.

According to Hitchcock and Alton (2010: 275) assertions, the rapid decline of Mayan culture still remains a mystery to many archeologists and anthropologists. This is because it happened at a time when it was believed that peace and tranquility prevailed. Many archeologists and anthropologists had over the years attempted to unravel the mystery surrounding the Mayan cultural decline by delving deeper into the Mayan superior culture “(Foster: 2007: 227)”.

Mayan civilization originated from the pre-classic periods. Though shrouded by many mysteries, many theories suggest that the Mayan people originated from some parts of Europe or Asia across the Bering straight. Mayans established their existence in North America through farming systems rather than hunting “(Clow and Johan: 2007: 78)”. They planted variety of food crops and cash crops especially cotton which later became their major export to Europe.

After establishing their normal and peaceful existence the Mayan people experienced an exponential growth period “(Welker: 1998:1)”. There were plenty of food and luxury which became the norm of the day. During this classic period, the Mayans built the most awesome temples, ornate cities and grew in their intellectual capability.

It was during this period when cultural development was taking place “(Foster: 2007: 24)”. Classes and societal hierarchy emerged. With intellectual development in astronomy and mathematics, Mayan strong beliefs in supreme beings and heavenly bodies took shape and the emergence of religion later on emanate.

Mayans spoke thirty similar languages which were believed to have the same origin. The proto-Mayan language is believed to be over seventy years old. According to the historical linguists, the evolution of Mayan language into thirty different languages spoken today was as a result of geographical isolation that characterized the tribal Mayan settlements “(Clark: 1997: 220)”.

Though traces of original of the Mayan language are still found today, it is evidenced that the remaining Mayans had a common ancient with respect to their genetic origin.

Most scholars claim that the nobles and the priests occupied the top most class. In fact, many historians agree that the priests and the nobles comprised the Mayan aristocracy “(Welker: 1998:1)”. The aristocracy monopolized the Mayan classes and all authorities were bestowed to those who occupied the aristocracy.

It was also believed that the aristocracy was the center of Mayan government. The noble consisted of the king and his family whereas the Mayan kingdom was hereditary. The aristocrats were characterized by their wealth and power “(Welker: 1998:1)”. Furthermore, the aristocrats’ main role within the Mayan society was to give leadership, legislate and offer security for the Mayan people.

Below the rulers was the wealthy middle class. The middle class consisted of wealthy businessmen as well as farmers who owned large tracks of land. Though the class consisted of wealthy people their wealth could not surpass that of the nobles. Below this class were the commoners.

According to most historians and anthropologists retorts, commoners did not have much wealth or power. In fact, they supported their rulers as their slaves and offering gifts “(Foster: 2007: 227)”. The commoners mostly lived in small towns and villages where their major preoccupation was farming.

They are the largest class in the Mayan society and were regarded as the most productive. They grew corn, squash, beans, chili papers and many other crops that were grown by the Mayans. Besides they were doing any other work that was required by the ruling class “(Lisa: 2002: 819)”.

Below the commoners were the slaves, prisoners of war, criminals and the lepers. They neither had wealth, power nor freedom. According to the Mayan culture where humans were sacrificed, these people were the ones chosen to be sacrificed or killed in a ceremony for the gods.

Mayans believed that human gifts would appease their gods and will entice them to send prosperity to the Mayan people “(Ness: 2003:42)”. In most cases, human sacrifices were made during looming calamities and when the Mayans want to go for war. Such human sacrifices celebrities were also practiced after the successful season or after successful war.

The Mayan civilization

The Mayan civilization was thought to have originated from the earlier civilizations such as those of the Olmec “(Rathje: 1971: 279)”. Based on those early ideas and inventions Mayans advanced the astronomical thought and developed the calendrical systems. Besides, Mayans advanced the idea of writing and in the process came up with highly hieroglyphic writing. Mayans were also known for their highly festooned architectural designs evidenced in the buildings that were highly regarded.

The Mayan great temples, pyramids and palaces that were built without metal tools still bewilder many historians. The Mayan skills were not in architecture alone “(Stray: 2007: 48)”.

Their skills were also seen in agriculture where they could clear large tracks of forest land as well as building the ground water reservoirs using the crude tools. The civilization was conspicuous in their economic activities. They were skilled weavers, potters and ornamental. They could cleverly clear roads in the dense forest, build bridges across swamps to open routs for trade and commerce.

The Mayan government

Principally, the Mayan government was hierarchical with the kings and nobles as the rulers. The system of government is thought to have developed during the classic period. During this period the Mayan civilization was thought to be more urbanized and the system of government developed into a highly structured kingdom “(Foster: 2007: 93)”. The Mayan society consisted of highly stratified and many independent states.

Each state was characterized by a rural farming community with urban centers constructed around sites where ceremonies were being conducted. The reasons for the Mayan kingdom still remain a mystery to many historians. The dynastic came to end when the remaining northern Mayan was finally assimilated by the Toltec rising society “(Hitchcock and Alton: 2010: 275)”. Some peripheral centers were still alive until the Spanish invasion in the sixteenth century.


The Mayan civilization is characterized by complex architectural designs, highly developed art, writing, advanced astronomy and mathematics. Its history is also marked by rise and fall. The Mayan cities rose and fell. The ruined cities were immediately being replaced by others. The Mayan civilization could best be described as one that is ever changing and continuously guided by religion “(Welker: 1998:1)”.

Indeed religion remained to be the foundation of the Mayan culture. The Mayan traditions were influenced by the supernatural beings and belief in the cosmos. The tradition was embedded on the homage paid to super beings through highly regarded sacrifices and rituals that even involved giving human blood as gifts. The deeply rooted Mayan civilization and tradition can still be seen the modern day hybridization of the Christian- Maya faith “(Ness: 2003:42)”.


Clark, John. 1997. The Arts of Government in Early Mesoamerica. Annual Review of Anthropology 26 (October):211-234.

Clow, Barbara and Carl Johan. 2007. The Mayan Code: Time Acceleration and Awakening the World Mind. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions / Bear & Company.

Cook, Garrett. 2010. Mayan Spirituality and the Resurgence of Mayan Activism. Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 5(1):93-95.

Foster, Lynn. 2007. A brief history of Central America. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.

Gilbert, Adrian and Maurice Cotterell. 1996. The Mayan Prophecies: Unlocking the Secrets of a Lost Civilization. New York: NY: Element.

Hitchcock, Mark and Alton Gansky. 2010. The Mayan Apocalypse. Pittsburgh, PA: Harvest House Publishers.

Lisa, Lecero. 2002. The collapse of the Classic Maya: A case for the role of water control. American Anthropologist 104(September): 814-826.

Ness, John. 2003. Fall of the Mayans. Newsweek, March 24, 2003.

Rathje, William. 1971. The Origin and Development of Lowland Classic Maya Civilization. American Antiquity 36(July): 275-285.

Robin, Cynthia. 2001. Peopling the Past: New Perspectives on the Ancient Maya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 98(January): 18-21.

Stray, Geoff. 2007. The Mayan and Other Ancient Calendars. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Welker, Glenn. 1998. “Mayan Civilization” .

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