3/26 Aim: How were the Mayans and Aztecs
Similar? Different?
Do Now: Imagine
that you were an
archeologist who
came across this
structure. Draw 3
inferences about
the people who
built it.
The Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Mexico. Temple to
the god Kukulkan.
Mayan Architecture
Temple at the city- state of Chichen Itza
Illustration of Tikal before the civilization fell
Temple at the city-state of
Aztec Architecture
Aztec temples near Mexico City
Mayan Written Language
The Mayan writing system, known
as “Mayan Glyphs” or
“Hieroglyphics,” was the most
complex system of writing
developed by any American
civilization. Maya writing used
pictograms complemented by a
set of syllabic (sound) glyphs.
Aztec Written Language
The Aztec spoken language was
called Nahuatl, yet they also had a
written language based on
pictograms. The Aztec written
language is considered an
incomplete writing form and not
nearly as complex as Mayan writing.
Adapting to their Environment:
Mayan Farming Techniques
In order to support a large population, the
Mayans had to adapt to their tropical
environment. Rain forests were cleared,
then raised fields that caught and held
rainwater were built. They also built
channels that could be opened to drain off
excess water.
Most Mayans were farmers. They grew
corn, beans, and squash – the basic food
crops of Middle America and are
sometimes refered to as “the three sisters”.
Men usually cultivated the crops, while
women, who were assigned to domestic
tasks, turned them into food.
The Aztec
Capital of
What do you
notice about
the location of
the Aztec
Adapting to their Environment:
Aztec Farming Techniques
As the Aztec’s population grew, they found
an ingenious way to create more farmland.
They built Chinampas, or artificial islands
Made of earth piled on reed mats that were
Anchored to the shallow lake bed where they
grew corn, beans, and squash
Mayan Religious Beliefs
The Maya worshipped a pantheon of nature gods, each
of which had both a benevolent side and a malevolent
side. One of the most important deities was the
supreme god Itzamná, the creator god, the god of the
fire and god of the earth. Another important Mayan god
was Kulkulcán, the Feathered Serpent, who appears
on many temples and was later adopted by the Toltecs
and Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl. Also important was Chac,
a hooked-nose god of rain and lightning.
The Mayans engaged in a large number of festivals and
rituals on fixed days of the year, many of which involved
animal sacrifices and all of which seem to have
involved bloodletting.
As far as human sacrifice is concerned, the Mayans
are believed to have performed less human sacrifice
than the Aztecs who followed them, however, it did take
place. The most common method of human sacrifice
involved plunging an obsidian knife into the victim’s
chest and extracting the heart.
Mayan priests would perform
Rituals of human sacrifice to the Gods
Aztec Religious Beliefs
The Aztec priests were a class apart. They
performed the rituals needed to please the many
Aztec gods and prevent droughts, floods, or other
disasters. The chief Aztec god was Huitzilopochtli,
the sun god. His giant pyramid-temple towered
above central Tenochtitlan.
Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs believed battled the forces
of darkness each night and was reborn each
morning. To give the sun strength to rise each day,
the Aztecs offered human sacrifices on a daily
basis. The need to find sacrifice victims had political
and social implications. The Aztecs
Priests offered the hearts of tens of thousands of victims to Huitzilopochtli and other
Aztec gods. Most of the victims were prisoners of war, but sometimes a noble family
gave up one of its own members to appease the gods.
Mayan and Aztec Achievements:
Astronomical Calculations
Both the Mayans and Aztecs created accurate 365-day solar calendars mainly for religious purposes. Mayan
priests needed to measure time accurately in order to hold ceremonies at the correct moment. As a result,
priests became expert mathematicians and astronomers. Some used their knowledge of astronomy and
mathematics to foretell the future.
The Mayans had multiple calendars, but by far the most famous is the Long Count calendar which is the one
of the most accurate calendars ever created in history. It is perhaps most famous for predicting the end of the
world on December 21 2012.
Decline of the Mayas
About 900 A.D, the Mayas abandoned their
cities, leaving their great stone palaces and
temples to be swallowed up by the jungle.
No one knows for sure why Mayan
civilization declined. Possibly, frequent
warfare forced the Mayas to abandon their
traditional agricultural methods. Or,
overpopulation may have led to over
farming, which in turn exhausted the soil.
Heavy taxes to finance wars and temple
building may have sparked peasant revolts.
One thing is for certain. At the time of
Spanish arrival in the 16th century, the
Mayans, as an advanced civilization, did not
Decline of the Aztecs
At the height of Aztec power in 1519, word reached
Tenochtitlan that pale-skinned, bearded men, had
landed on the east coast. Montezuma, king of the
Aztecs, possibly believing that Hernando Cortes, was
the god-king returning from the east, invited Cortes
into his capital.
Later, Relations between the Aztecs and
Spaniards soon grew strained, and the Aztecs
Drove the Spanish from the city. Montezuma was
killed in the fighting. By 1521 however, Cortes and
his Indian allies captured and demolished
Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs had been conquered
1. Study the examples of Mayan and Aztec
Architecture and illustrations of the city. Describe 3
ways they are similar (both aesthetically and
Written Language
Study the examples of Mayan and Aztec written
language. Describe 2 ways they are similar.
Adaption to Environment: Farming Techniques
Provide examples as to how the Mayans adapted
to their tropical environment
Which civilization had a superior writing form?
How did the Aztecs adapt to their environment
(describe Chinamapas)?
How is it similar to other ancient civilizations?
Religious Beliefs
Explain 2 ways the religious beliefs of the Mayans
and Aztecs were similar.
The Mayas and the Aztecs
Mayan and Aztec Achievements
Astronomical Calculations
1. Which achievement was accomplished by both
the Mayas and Aztecs? What was the purpose of
Explain 2 possible theories as to why the Maya’s
civilization declined.
How did the decline of the Aztecs differ from the
decline of the Maya?
Which civilization was more focused on human
sacrifice? Why?
2. Why was this achievement useful?

3/11 Aim: How were the Mayans and Aztecs Similar