400 BCE–900 CE
Central America
Read: The Maya
civilization stretched
from the highlands of
modern day
Guatemala to the hot
coastal plain along
the Pacific Coast, to
the tropical rain forest
of the Yucatan
Read: These natural barriers helped to protect the
Maya civilization for 1300 years.
Write: Central
America: From
Guatemala to the
Pacific Coast, to the
Yucatan Peninsula.
Write: 400 BCE–900 CE = 1300 years!
Read:The Maya built
temple-pyramids from
hand-cut limestone
bricks. These buildings
were used for important
rituals such as sacrifices
to the gods.
Write:The Maya built templepyramids from hand-cut limestone
bricks used for religious practices.
Read: An unusual feature of
Mayan architecture was a type of
arch called a corbel vault.
Builders would stack stones so
that they gradually angled in
towards one another to form a
triangular archway. The archway
always had nine stone layers,
representing the nine layers of
the underworld.
Write: Mayan used a
corbel vault =
stacked stones so
that they gradually
angled in towards
one another to form a
triangular archway of
nine layers.
Read: Agriculture was incredibly important to the
Maya because their society was dependent on the
food provided by farming. If the crops failed,
everyone would starve.
Crops: The Maya planted corn, beans, squash and
chili peppers.
Write: Agriculture was incredibly important to the
The Maya planted corn, beans, squash and chili
Read: Problems: The environment that the Maya lived
in was not conducive to farming—the land consisted
of dense forests, little surface water and poor soil.
Read: The Maya responded to these challenges by
building terraces in the mountainside to create
flat land for planting…
Read:…and in
the lowlands,
they build
raised earthplatforms
surrounded by
Write: The Mayan environment was not good for
farming. In response, the Mayan cut terraces in
hills for flat land to farm on, and built raised earth
platforms surrounded by water to farm on.
Read: Another technique
the Maya utilized to create
more crop land was slashand-burn agriculture. This
method consisted of
clearing land by cutting
and burning plants and
trees over a piece of land
and then using the newly
flat land for crops. This
method of burning the land
also made the soil more
Write: The Maya also created more
land through slash and burn = cut down
or burn vegetation.
Write: The Mayan social system was a hierarchy. The
graphic organizer below helps illustrate the different
classes within Mayan cities:
Nobles and
Merchants and
Read: Notice that the Mayan social system is very similar
to Feudal Europe’s social system:
Lords of
Write: The Mayan social system was a hierarchy.
God-King=Ruled the city
state with help from
advisors—decided when to
go to war.
Nobles and
Nobles served as officials
and oversaw administrative
tasks such as gathering
taxes. Priests performed
rituals, offered sacrifices
and foretold the future.
Merchants and
Merchants and
artisans created
products for trade
with other city-states.
They were the
backbone of Mayan
society because
they grew the crops
to feed the people
of the city.
Slaves performed manual
labor for their owners.
Read: Life for Mayan peasant families was difficult. They lived
in one-room huts built of interwoven poles that were covered
with dried mud, and everyone in the household had work to
Write: Life for Mayan peasant families was difficult. They lived
in one-room huts.
Read: Family Duties: The women would cook, clean, keep
the fire burning, weave cloth and keep livestock for food. The
men would farm the land, hunt animals, and help construct
the large temples and palaces for the nobility.
Write: Family Duties: Women = cook, clean, keep the fire,
weave,and keep livestock for food.
Men = farm, hunt, and help construct the large temples and
Read: Special Occasions: The Mayans would
celebrate important events in their lives. One of
these was when a young girl or boy came of age,
and was regarded by the tribe as an adult. This
usually occurred at 12 for girls and at 14 for boys. At
the coming of age ceremony, a priest would cut off
ornaments on the children that were representative
or their innocence.
Write: Special Occasions: Coming of age
ceremony is when a child is now considered an
Girls = 12, boys = 14
Read: Special Occasions Continued: The next big event in
a Mayan peasant’s life was his or her marriage ceremony.
An atanzahab, or matchmaker, would decide who was
eligible for marriage and then the parents of the intended
would negotiate with one another until they agreed on an
appropriate amount of food and clothing that the groom’s
family would give the bride’s family. After the marriage, the
new couple would move into a hut behind the home of the
bride’s family.
Write: Mayan
marriages were
arranged by an
atanzahab or a
matchmaker. After
the wedding, the
new couple would
live in a hut behind
the bride’s family’s
Read: The priests, along with the leaders in each
city-state, were the most powerful people in the
Maya civilization besides the ruler. The Maya
believed that their priests could talk to the gods.
The priests decided when
to plant crops and when
people could marry and to
whom. Before doing pretty
much anything, one had to
ask for a priest’s approval.
Write: The priests were
powerful. People
believed that they could
talk to the gods. They
decided when to plant
crops and when people
could marry and to
Read: The Maya were
polytheistic because
they believed in many
gods. In fact, the
Maya believed in 160
gods. They believed
these gods controlled
every aspect of their
lives, and that only
the priests were able
to decipher the gods’
Write: Maya were polytheistic = they believed in
many gods. Over 160!
Read: Priests would
attempt to
appease their
gods by
sacrifices of both
non living items,
such as plants,
food, flowers, jade
and shells…
…and living items, such
as animals and
sometimes humans.
The people who were
sacrificed were usually
either slaves or war
In Chichen Itza, humans
were sacrificed by
being thrown into a
sacred well.
Write: Mayan
priests would
give sacrifices
to the gods of
either living or
they sacrificed
Read and Write: Mayan rulers
decided when to go to war,
and priests would consult
their calendars to decide the
best days for battle.
Read: The Maya were very gifted in the arts.
They would paint elaborate murals using colors
mixed from minerals and plants to depict nobles,
priests, battle scenes, and ceremonies.
Read: They also
constructed upright stone
slabs called steles which
stood 5-12 feet high and
contained three
dimensional carvings of
gods and rulers.
Read: Plus, the Maya were
exceptional weavers. They would
create colorful cloths in complex
Write: The Maya painted elaborate murals of
important people or events, they carved tall stone
steles of rulers and gods, and they wove cloth in
intricate patterns.
Read: The Maya used
hieroglyphics to
represent sounds,
words and ideas. The
Maya created
hundreds of glyphs.
They would use them
to write about rulers,
their history, myths
and gods, and
This is the Mayan
Write: Mayan wrote in hieroglyphics.
Read: The Maya made
important breakthroughs in
astronomy and
mathematics. The priests
would study the sky from
observatories, and from
these observations they
were able to track the
movements of stars and
planets with striking
accuracy. They used these
calculations to create the
Mayan calendar, a solar
calendar, of 365 days.
Read: The Maya used a number system just like ours.
However, instead of being based on the number 10,
their system was based on 20. So instead of place
values for 1s, 10s, and 100s, they had place values for
1s, 20s, and 400s (20 times 20).
The Maya also recognized
the need for zero—a
discovery that few other
civilizations made.
Write: The Maya were
great astronomers.
They created the
Mayan calendar, a
solar calendar, of 365
They were also great
mathematicians and
saw the need for zero.
Read: For about 600 years
the great cities of the
Maya thrived, but then in
the space of 50 to 100
years, the civilization that
supported these cities fell
apart. By 900 c.e., the
Maya had abandoned
their cities to the jungle.
Read and Write: The collapse of the Mayan
civilization is one of the great mysteries of
Mesoamerican history. There are many theories
as to what happened to them, such as
overpopulation, bad weather resulting in crop
failure and starvation, or uncontrolled warfare.
Another possibility is that invaders from central
Mexico helped destroy the Mayan city-states.
Read: Although the great Mayan cities are ruins today,
Mayan culture lives on. About 2 million Maya still live in
the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
Millions more are
spread throughout the
Yucatan Peninsula
and the cities and
rural farm
communities of
Belize, Guatemala,
Honduras, and El
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