The Maya Civilization, Part 1 - New Philadelphia City Schools

The Maya Civilization, Part 1
By Jane Runyon
Take a look at Mexico and Central America on a map. If you use your
imagination, you might see how Mexico resembles a left-handed fist
with the thumb sticking up. The area around this thumb, the Yucatan
Peninsula, was once part of the Maya civilization. Evidence has been
found to prove that the Mayas first settled in the area thousands of years
ago. It is thought that the first tribesmen crossed a land bridge in the
Bering Strait from Asia.
Many archaeologists like to divide Maya history into three time periods.
The first time period is called the Preclassic period. The Preclassic
period traces the Maya as far back as evidence can be found. They are
pretty sure that people have lived in the area since 10,000 BC. Villages
were built around 1800 BC. By 1000 BC, the people were building
temples. In 600 BC, buildings were being built that brought the people together into a city. These cities sprung up
around the entire Central American region.
The second Maya period is called the Classic period. It lasted from approximately 250 AD to 900 AD. It was
during this time that the Maya created their greatest cities. The empire was at its most powerful. The Maya
government was not an empire like many others in history. There was not one central powerful city. The Mayas
built city-states. Each city-state had its own royalty. Each city-state made its own laws. Each city had its own
temples and monuments.
Agriculture and trade were important to the people in the city-states. Cacao, salt, obsidian, and jade were traded
regularly among the city states.
A Maya leader was born to his position. Leadership was passed from father to son for many generations. Many of
the monuments constructed in Mayan cities were for the glorification of their leaders. Intricate carvings adorned
the walls of these monuments. Temples for religious rites and palaces for the rulers were masterpieces. What
makes these buildings even more spectacular is to remember that there were no metal tools or heavy equipment at
the time. Temples looked like the pyramids in Egypt. Yet Egypt was thousands of miles from the Maya land. The
temples, like the pyramids were built entirely with man-power.
The final period in Mayan history is known as the Postclassic Period. During the 700's and 800's, the Mayan
presence seemed to disappear. Scientists have debated for years as to what happened. The beautiful, well-built
cities were deserted. The people scattered in small groups. Had there been a great civil war? Had disease killed
large populations? Had an earthquake or hurricane driven the people from the cities? These questions have been
studied for centuries.
Some scientists feel that a severe drought that lasted for many years may have caused the Mayan people to seek
new homes. Some scientists feel that the people may have become disillusioned by their leaders and revolted
against the royal families. Unfortunately, we may never know the answers to these questions. The Mayans
developed their own written language. They wrote books detailing their history. When Spanish conquistadors came
across the ruins of ancient Mayan civilization in the 1500's, they destroyed almost all of the books. They reasoned
that a group of people like this could not be civilized. The books must be the work of the devil. Only four books
written by the Mayans are still in existence.
The Mayan people did not completely disappear. Their organized living style did. What may have started more
than 20,000 years ago with ancient tribes crossing a land bridge in the Bering Strait came to a quiet end along the
Caribbean coast of Central America.
The Maya Civilization, Part 1
1. Ancestors of the Mayan people may have come from Asia.
A. True
B. False
2. What type of government did the Mayans have?
A. City-states that governed themselves
B. A council of elders
C. An elected president
D. One large empire ruled by a king
3. How did a Mayan ruler get the job?
A. He was chosen by the gods.
B. He was elected by the people.
C. He won an athletic contest.
D. He was the son of a ruler.
4. How was the history of the Mayan civilization lost?
5. What happened during the Postclassic Mayan period?
6. What was NOT mentioned as something the Mayans traded?
A. Obsidian
B. Cacao
C. Gold
D. Jade
7. How many time periods is Mayan history divided into?
A. Two
B. Five
C. Three
D. Four
8. What did the Mayan temples resemble?
A. Schools
B. Churches
C. Egyptian pyramids
D. Mountains
Who were the Mayans? Where would you find the Mayans located?
If you could do something that would be remembered by generations in the future, what would you do?