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All About Mayan Culture

The Ancient Mayans are renowned among historians and archaeologists as being an incredibly advanced culture that excelled at mathematics, astronomy and arts. With their star-based calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012, many people are giving this ancient culture a second look. Find out more about Mayan culture!

Chichen Itza in MexicoChichen Itza in the Yucatan (Mexico) is a famous Mayan ruin

Where in the World

The Mayans are one of the oldest societies documented, and come from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in Central America and Mexico. You can still visit the ruins of the ancient people in these places today, like the Chichen Itza temple in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Although the Mayan civilization eventually blended into other surrounding people, there are still many descendants of the ancient Mayans who speak Mayan languages and preserve their own traditions and arts, such as creating beautiful textiles (woven fabric).

Mayan TextilesMayan people today keep the tradition of weaving beautiful bright textiles, like this lady in Guatemala

The Ancient Maya

The Ancient Maya lived from 2000 B.C. to as late as the 16th century A.D., even after competing cultures like the Aztecs and Spanish Conquistadors took power in that part of the world. Mayan warriors dressed in outfits with  many feathers and tassels, and in modern Mayan celebrations warrior costumes with bright feathers are made for men dancing in traditional parades.

Science and Writing

The Ancient Maya were so advanced in some sciences that modern day people often feel as if they have mystical powers and take their predictions very seriously (like the prediction that the world may end due to an astronomical power this year). They are possibly the first culture to develop the telescope and map the stars and other phenomena in the night sky using difficult mathematics. Using this information they developed a nearly accurate calendar.  Many of the events of their daily life were organized according to this calendar.

Science wasn’t their only feat though; they also developed a way of writing similar to the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics with more than 1,000 glyphs! Scribes had a special place in society and were revered and respected by all.

Mayan ArtThe Ancient Mayans created a written language similar to Egyptian Hieroglyphics


The Ancient Maya believed in cycles and nature, and many of their rites and religious events were held at specific times of the year. They believed in three planes of existence: The Earth, The Heavens (above) and the Underworld (below).  These planes all had their own gods, not all of whom were good, especially those dealing with death. Some art suggests that they believed in human sacrifice, and it was performed by priests for the good of the whole community.

The Ancient Maya also believed that the night sky was a window to the gods and cosmos, and consulted three different calendars for religious events: a solar, a lunar and one based on the planet Venus. In some parts of Guatemala the lunar calendar is still used for religious traditions. Many rites originally centered around the life cycle of maize crops.


The ruins of the Ancient Maya are fascinating for travelers the world over, and attract large crowds. Many of their structures were rebuilt on top of one another and show us exactly how they observed the stars and performed religious rites. Many ruins show that they incorporated information they knew about the sun and stars, such as the “snake” shadow that appears on the stairs of the pyramid-like temple at Chichen Itza in Mexico once a year. Caves were also popular, and often contain Mayan hieroglyphics that are more intact since they were protected from weather over the centuries.

Have Your Say

What do you think of Mayan culture? Let us know in the comments section below!

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