About the Maya


The Mayas were a pre-Columbian civilization that originated in the area that is now known as Guatemala, and spread through Honduras, Northern El Salvador, and central Mexico.

The Mayas did not have a central government, but were organized into many small kingdoms and city-states.  Their accomplishments included:

  • the construction of large cities (some with populations as large as 100,000), and enormous stone structures, including step pyramids, temples, palaces, and public buildings
  • sophisticated art, architecture, and religious ceremonies
  • the only complete written language in the pre-Columbian Americas
  • advanced astronomical observations and a detailed and accurate calendar
  • raised fields, terracing, irrigation canals, and fallow fields, all of which allowed Mayan agriculture to support a population that numbered in the millions
  • a system of long-distance trade that included thousands of miles of trails and even coastal sea routes

Notably, the Maya did not develop true arches or vaults, pulleys, or pumping devices; they had few metal tools and no draft animals. 

The Mayan civilization reached its peak between 600 and 900 AD.  Starting around 800 AD, the civilization began to decline.  Although the reasons are not known for sure, there is evidence that a prolonged drought and a rapidly expanding population led to the collapse of the Mayan agricultural system.

Although their civilization declined, the Maya did not disappear.  Mayan workers labored on the Spanish haciendas, and even today Mayan language, customs, and cuisine can be found throughout the Yucatán.

Extensive Mayan ruins can be seen today in many places, including Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum, and the Ruta Puuc.