The Mayan Empire, which thrived in modern-day Guatemala, was the epitome of power and prosperity during the sixth century A.D. It was one of the most superior societies of Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America). The Mayans showed excellence in the fields of agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar development, and mathematics.
The earliest Mayan settlements that have been recorded date back to 1800 B.C., which may be referred to as the start of Preclassic Period. What set them apart from the other civilizations was their place of residence. Whereas, a majority of the civilizations before, during, and after Mayan times were often dispersed in several different areas or even cities, the Mayans would remain in one block of an area; this was the geographical block that would cover the Yucatan Peninsula along with Guatemala. This also meant that the Mayans remained secure from any attacks of the other empires and tribes present in the Mesoamerican region.
The Mayans would show great advancement in their agricultural techniques and were able to harvest crops such as corn, beans, squash, and cassava. They were also very apt at building pyramids, constructing cities, and etching stone monuments.
The golden age of the Mayan Empire came during A.D. 250 when the Mayan society inhabited around 40 cities at the time. Each of its cities would hold up to 5,000 or more people, and the entire population of the Mayan empire racked up to 2,000,000 people.
Mayan excavations have helped with the discovery of palaces, temples, plazas, and pyramids being built by the Mayans. The farmers of the Mayan Empire made up the major segment of the population and they would often use advanced irrigation and terracing methods.
The Mayans also proved to be extremely devout and would worship several gods. Their gods had been categorized into different worldly elements such as the God of Sun, God of Moon, God of Rain, and God of Corn. The kings of the empire would come in second in the hierarchy, after the gods. The kings would claim and be considered people related to the gods and acted as the messengers of gods and the people. They would come in power through hereditary succession and also performed religious ceremonies and rituals pertaining to the culture.
Starting from the later eighth century to the end of the ninth century the Mayans had slowly started to abandon their homes in the Mayan cities and dispersed. No one really knows the reason for such a move but some scholars assume that this was possible because of the exhaustion of the natural resources of the cities.
About the Author
Amita Vadlamudi writes extensively on history and ancient cultures. Her resume and her various other works and interests may be found at the following sites.
A computer systems analyst with over three decades of experience, Amita Vadlamudi has worked in various capacities in the information technology sector. A lifelong learner, Amita Vadlamudi enjoys learning about history and science. In particular, she is interested in ancient American cultures, like the Maya civilization of South America.
The Maya culture was extremely complex and sophisticated. In addition to several noteworthy scientific and astronomical discoveries, Mayans also are responsible for domesticating the cacao bean. The cacao bean was a prized element of the Mayas. Its importance is evidenced by its prolific inclusion in artwork, on vases, and in murals. It had medicinal, sacrificial, ceremonial, and culinary uses and was even used as currency.
The Mayas used the cacao bean to produce a frothy, sugarless chocolate drink made from crushed cacao beans, chili peppers, and water. The chocolate drink was a luxury item and was often offered to royals and newly married couples. It was known as the “food of the gods.”
Christopher Columbus was the first European exposed to the cacao bean during his fourth and last voyage to the Americas, when the treasured beans were offered to him as a trade item. Later, in 1528, Hernan Cortes brought chocolate to the Spanish court. With the addition of sugar, chocolate became very popular and spread throughout Europe as a luxury item.