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Maya: Defined. By Anna Reyes H. World History 4 th Period Mr. Sinco. Background Info. Mayan origins are traced back to the Olmecs . Their civilization emerged in approximately 2600BCE and fell around 900CE (their peak period was roughly 300CE).

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Maya defined

Maya: Defined

By Anna Reyes

H. World History

4th Period

Mr. Sinco

Background info
Background Info

  • Mayan origins are traced back to the Olmecs. Their civilization emerged in approximately 2600BCE and fell around 900CE (their peak period was roughly 300CE).

  • Their area was a rich source for obsidian and cacao trees.

  • They were the first to develop a known writing system and could successfully reproduce their own language (the only group of Native Americans who accomplished this during the pre-Columbian era).

  • The Mayans also developed a calendar system and showed advancements in mathematics, astronomy, architecture, art, religion, politics, and military systems.

  • Though their society was much more advanced than most societies of their time, the majority of their culture has vanished.

    • Their climate did not support the survival of any sort of books, which were buried with priests

    • During the 1500s, the Spaniards annihilated any evidence of Mayan culture they found.

Land and area
Land and Area

  • The Mayans occupied the region centered around present-day Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala (with portions from Honduras and El Salvador).

  • They had no central king, so they were divided into 20 or so independent states (similar to Grecian city-states).

Writing system
Writing System

  • The Mayan writing system was composed of 800 pictographs (syllabic).

  • They chiseled many texts in stone, which, in turn, were written in the form of codices.

    • If they were assembled in books, they were “accordion-like” with pages of fig bark and bindings of white lime and jaguar skin.

  • Various codices spoke of religion, history, astronomy, and medicinal practices.

    • Only 4 codices survive today (which are named for the cities they are maintained in)”

      • Paris, Madrid, Dresden, and Grolier Codex (Mexico City)

  • Mayan knowledge, history, and folklore are contained in The ChilamBalamand the PopulVuh (which were written during the Spanish colonial era).


  • The Mayan mathematics system was the most advanced method of the period.

    • It was developed by the late Pre-Classic period.

  • The vestigial number system (based on units of 20) was composed of 3 symbols: a dot, a bar, and a shell. A dot represented 1, a bar 5, and a shell 0.

    • The Mayan concept of “zero” is the earliest perception known in the world.

  • Numbers were encrypted vertically.

  • Mayans used cocoa beans as counters (Ex. Trade and commerce).

Calendar system
Calendar System

  • The Calendar System focused on a 365-day solar year, a 260-day ritual year, and a 5,128-day world calendar.

    • Solar Calendar: Also called “haab”; 18 months were divided into 20 days with 5 unlucky days, in which the majority of daily activities were suspended.

    • Ritual Calendar: Also known as the “Sacred Round” or the “tzolkin”; This period was the center of the Mayans’ religious practices and was utilized as a certain guide to their destinies. It was not proportioned into months, but was rather one long cycle.

    • World Calendar: Mayans believed in the world’s beginning and end points. They perceived that the commencement of life began in 3,114BCE and that the “End of the World” would occur on December 21, 2012.

      • This has concerned many scholars throughout the years. However, this is “deadline” is only observed as the conclusion of a cycle.

  • In addition to these 3 systems, the Mayans also established a Lunar Calendar, in which they were able to predict lunar and solar eclipses.

Trade and commerce
Trade and Commerce

  • As the Mayan civilization was strategically located at the cross of various major trade routes, they were able to trade a numerous amount of objects.

  • Chief items:

    • Jade, obsidian, flint, salt, serpentine, honey, textiles, animal hides, quetzal feathers, copal (for pom incense), cacao, bark paper, grinding stones, and pottery.

  • Along with their abundance of goods, Mayans also allowed their ideas, advancements, and unique styles to disperse through trade.

Governmental structure
Governmental Structure

  • Mayans were never officially “united”

  • Their city-states were led by nobles or “ahua”

  • TheAhuaand their extended families made up the noble elites, as did the priests and the top warriors.

  • The eldest son succeeded his father as ruler (primarily) and chief priest.

  • The ruling class was supported by tributes from the commoners and middle class citizens (artisans, merchants, farmers, and selected warriors).

  • As for hierarchal affairs, the lowest ranking in Mayan society comprised of the slaves, which were either born into their class or were captured prisoners of war.

Maya defined

  • Mayans expressed their adoration for beauty, myth, and drama through sculptures, mosaics, weavings, clothing, ceramics, and paintings.

  • Jade was considered more valuable than gold, due to the fact that there was a very scarce amount in the area.

    • Jade was primarily carved into jewelry and figurines or used to create inlaid masks.

  • Mayans did NOT use metal tools, yet their copious polychrome vases and terracotta figures are still maintained today.

  • Nobles prolonged a high demand for bracelets, necklaces, breastplates, ear flares, nose plugs, and labrets, which they used to flaunt their status. Only the best of these objects were chosen to be buried with their owners.


  • Architecture was based mainly on temple pyramids, which commenced in limestone quarries.

    • Stone masons sculpted enormous stone blocks (without metal tools) and positioned them without mortar.

    • Since there were no animals or wheeled carts, men pulled these blocks and transported them by means of rolling logs.

    • The temples were embellished with carvings and murals by skilled artisans.

  • In addition to these temple pyramids, Mayans also built palaces, civic buildings, steam baths, reservoirs, canals, and ball courts. In one case, a domed observatory was constructed.

  • Mayans favored the style of Corbel Arches.


  • Mayans worshipped more than 160 deities.

  • They viewed Earth as the world between the Sky World and the Underworld.

  • They prayed to gods for precipitation, great crop production, health, assets, and victories in war.

    • In order to express their devotion, Mayans sacrificed incense, cherished items, blood, animals, and humans.

      • To further exhibit their commitment, rulers sometimes pierced their tongues, lips, or ears and dragged thorned cords through the openings. Blood would then drip onto bark paper, which was burned and arranged as a sacrifice to their worshipped idols.

    • Men, women, and children were either drowned in wells (called “cenotes”) or had their hearts ritually removed at the peak of temple pyramids.

    • Mayans favored sacrifice among common enemies of equivalently high ranks.

      • Priests assembled their hearts on carved receptacles (“chacmool”); In some cases, priests wore the victim’s skin and ritually consumed their limbs.

Mysterious decline
Mysterious Decline

  • The collapse of the Mayan city-states occurred in a surprisingly short amount of time.

  • There is no evident basis for the collapse, but these are the most common theories:

    • Overpopulation, combined with the exhaustion of agricultural resources.

    • Increased warfare.

    • Prolonged drought/ Environmental disasters.

    • The satiated noble class required more support from the working classes.

    • Increasing amount of sacrifices, which broadened into the lower classes

    • Serious epidemic (most possibly due to the dense population in urban cities)

    • Drastic climate change