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400 BCE–900 CE Central America

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1 400 BCE–900 CE Central America
The Mysterious Maya 400 BCE–900 CE Central America

2 Natural Barriers From about 400 BCE until 900 CE, 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 Peninsula. These natural barriers helped to protect the Maya civilization for 1300 years.

3 The Maya To find the ruins of ancient Maya cities hidden deep in the rainforest, archaeologists have to hunt on foot. The rain forest is home to many poisonous animals. Some archaeologists are willing to brave the dangers to learn more about the clever Maya. Teacher’s notes: Maya is the name of the people and their civilization. Mayan is the language.

4 Maya Cities Two thousand years ago, the Yucatan Peninsula was a busy place. The Maya did not have metal tools—they used stone, bone, and wood tools to build hundreds of magnificent cities. Cities were centers of religion and learning. The Maya studied art, mathematics, architecture, drama, medicine, and music.

5 Maya Cities Every Maya city had an impressive palace for its ruler, a bustling marketplace, an open-air plaza where people could gather, and at least one huge pyramid, a large temple, and one ball court similar to the stadiums we have today. People came to town to shop, to worship, and to cheer at the ball games.

6 Cities Question Two of the largest cities were
Tikal (tee-KAHL), located in the present-day country of Guatemala Copan (ko-PAHN), located in the present-day country of Honduras QUESTION: What were three things you could find in every Maya city?

7 Gods of Nature The Maya worshipped the gods of nature. Some of their gods included Lady Rainbow, and the Gods of Rain, Maize, and Sun. Without the help of these important gods, there would be no crops and everyone would starve.

8 Priests The priests, along with the leaders in each city-state, were the most powerful people in the Maya civilization. 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. Teacher’s notes: The Maya believed their priests could talk to the gods. This gave the priests incredible power.

9 The Underworld The Maya believed in an underworld, the Place of Awe. The priests held ceremonies to keep demons and spooky creatures locked inside the underworld, where they belonged. During these ceremonies, priests wore scary masks and jaguar costumes. They wanted to look as scary as the magical creatures in the underworld.

10 The Legend of Mirrors The Maya believed that one could communicate with a god by looking into a mirror. Legend says…warriors going into battle wore mirrors on their backs. The idea was that if an enemy warrior tried to sneak up on a Maya warrior, a demon might reach out from the underworld and snatch the enemy. Teacher’s notes: According to the Maya, demons were always trying to escape from the underworld into this world. The priests’ job was to make sure this did not happen. The Maya believed that looking into a mirror was a risk, because a mirror was a portal to all the gods, both in heaven and in the underworld. Since it was regarded as so dangerous, women were not allowed to look into mirrors. Only men could use mirrors, and many did each day to prove their bravery and to seek direction.

11 Afterlife The Maya believed in an afterlife. The common people buried their dead inside their homes, under the floor; that way, their ancestors could keep an eye on them. The Maya believed that if a lot of bad things happened to them in their life on earth, their afterlife would be especially good, to even things up. Teacher’s notes: Nobles were buried in tombs.

12 Temples Maya religion was at the heart of nearly all of their activities. The Maya were master builders. They built beautiful temples, used as both places of worship and homes for the priests. Each temple had a central courtyard to offer privacy for those who lived there. Typically, the Maya built a ball court at the base of each major temple.

13 Step Pyramids The Maya also built step pyramids to honor their gods and leaders. Each pyramid had a base with four triangular sides, with steps leading up to a flat top. Some pyramids were 200 feet high. Religious ceremonies were held on the steps so everyone could see them. The most important ones were held at the top. Teacher’s notes: Tikal, one of the major Mayan cities, had an especially large number of pyramids. This suggests that Tikal might have been a major religious center.

14 Festivals On every 20th day, a religious festival was held in each city. People poured into their nearest town to attend the festival. Priests would climb the pyramid steps dressed in fierce masks. Dancers performed wearing huge hats that jingled and rattled when they moved. There was always a ball game. The winners of the game got to keep the jewelry of the opposing team. Teacher’s notes: During the festivals, the Maya sacrificed both animals and humans. However, not all sacrifices ended in death. When nobles and priests offered blood (called “bloodletting”), a drop was smeared on a bit of bark. The bark was burned, and the smoke floated to heaven where it could be consumed by the gods.

15 Religion Questions Why did priests wear masks during religious ceremonies? Why did the Maya build both pyramids and temples? Teacher’s notes: To look as scary as the gods and demons they meant to keep in the underworld. Pyramids and temples served different purposes. Priests lived in the temples and performed some ceremonies, while pyramids were used for public religious ceremonies and as monuments to their gods.

16 Maya Daily Life The Maya made little pottery figures. Although tiny in size, these artifacts are detailed and brightly painted. Some rattle or whistle. They have helped archaeologists to better understand the Maya way of life. Archaeologists have found figures of a bearded man on a throne, a person in a huge hat, a ballplayer wearing heavily padded clothing, and a musician shaking a rattle. Teacher’s notes: Not all Maya art is pleasant. Archaeologists found one site that had 50 carved monuments. Some of the carvings show scenes of horrible killings; others have carvings of demons and scary creatures. Still others have pictures of bird gods. All have helped archaeologists to better understand the beliefs and activities of this ancient people.

17 Dance/Music/Games The Maya loved dance Some scholars believe the Maya might have known a thousand different dances. Their dances included the Monkey, the Grandfather, the Shadow of the Trees, and the Centipede. The Maya loved music. They played drums. They rattled turtle shells and played pottery flutes. They loved games, especially ball games. Teacher’s notes: Dance costumes were very colorful. Each dance had its own traditional costume. The headdresses that went with each costume were huge. The Maya loved hats, and they loved color and noise. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Maya decorated their costume hats with things that would make noise.

18 Class Society The time you had to spend on these activities depended upon your place in society. The Maya had a class society. There were slaves, peasants, craftsmen, nobles, priests, and warriors. At the top were the nobles and priests. The middle class had the craftsmen, traders, and warriors. At the bottom were farmers, other workers, and slaves.

19 Farmers Those who lived on farms ate well. They had hot corn porridge for breakfast and enjoyed tortillas filled with cooked vegetables for lunch and dinner. Families lived in thatched-roofed houses, with one family per house. Farmers grew so much food that they produced surplus crops. When the growing season ended, farmers worked alongside slaves (captured from other tribes) to build the magnificent cities.

20 Maize/Food The Maya people are sometimes referred to as the People of the Corn. Their most important crop was corn (maize). They made corn flour, corn pies, corn cakes, and corn drinks. Some of the nobles even wove their hair to resemble tassels of corn silk. Other crops were sweet potatoes, beans, chilies, and squash. They hunted wild turkey, monkeys, deer, and ducks. They caught fish. Teacher’s notes: Some scholars believe the Maya—not the Aztecs—made the first chocolate drink. One thing is for sure: the Maya ate very well. No one went hungry.

21 Craftsmen/Warriors Craftsmen: The Maya wove beautiful fabrics. They made musical instruments like drums, shell horns, and castanets. Their statues were detailed and huge. Their art honored their gods and leaders. Warriors: The Maya were often at war. Some scholars say they were always at war. Well-trained warriors were important to the Maya way of life. The job of warrior was highly respected.

22 Preparing for Battle Before a big battle, warriors created a “confidence-building shield.” This was a flat circular shield covered with pictures that represented all the wonderful things they had accomplished and all the battles they had won. Before going into battle, warriors would dance around, holding their shields and shaking rattles to gear themselves up to fight.

23 Nobility Maya nobles were of royal blood. They were the brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles of the ruling family. Nobles believed that they were so important that their attendants would hold a cloth in front of their face when they appeared in public. That way, no one could talk to them directly.

24 Really High Hats Maya nobles spent a great deal of time on their personal appearance. They bathed often. They pierced their ears and covered their bodies with paints and tattoos. They added colorful embroidery to their clothing. They wore lots of jewelry. Most of all, they loved tall hats. Some nobles wore hats that were taller than they were! Teacher’s notes: Hats were important. The Maya believed that the bigger the hat, the more important the wearer. As in most ancient cultures, the nobles had a lot of leisure time. Some of that time was spent on what they believed would make them look beautiful.

25 Slaves Slaves were people who were captured from warring tribes. Slaves worked in the homes of noble families. Slaves cared for the children, cleaned the house, and worked the fields.

26 Daily Life Questions 1. Why are the Maya called the “People of the Corn”? 2. Name a member from each of the three classes in Maya society. Teacher’s notes: Corn was incredibly important to their life. They made food and drinks from corn. They created instruments and whistles from corn. Many of their embroidery designs incorporated some aspect of corn or of growing corn. Three classes in Maya society would include warriors, priests, and farmers.

27 City-States The Maya did not have a central government. They governed themselves as a system of city-states. A city-state is a region under the control of a city, headed by a ruler or group of leaders. Extremely well-built roads ran for miles through the jungle and swamps, connecting the city-states that made up the Maya empire.

28 Ruling Families One noble family ruled each city. The job of ruler was hereditary: when a ruler died, his son took over. A council of elders and warriors helped to rule. Other people were selected for government jobs, such as enforcing the law or acting as judges. Teacher’s notes: Each ruling family lived in a palace built by the Maya master builders. Each city had only one palace, because there was one ruling family per city. The palace was built around a central garden or courtyard for protection and privacy.

29 Maya Law All Maya people spoke the same language, worshipped the same gods, and wore the same style of clothing. All Maya city-states enforced the same laws. Maya law was strict. If you were accused of a crime, a trial would be held in which a judge would hear the evidence. If you committed a small crime, your hair would be cut short. Short hair was a sign of disgrace. Punishments varied, but the laws applied to everyone, rich and poor alike. Teacher’s notes: Stealing was a major offense. A person found guilty of stealing would become the captive of their victim for life. Whatever the crime, if a judge found a person guilty, they would be punished, no matter their social class.

30 Government Questions 1. What is a city-state?
2. Who helped a ruling noble run his city? Teacher’s notes: A city-state is a region under the control of a city, headed by a ruler or group of leaders. A council of elders and warriors helped to rule, while others were selected for government jobs, such as law enforcement and judges.

31 Maya Hieroglyphics The Maya had a written language of hieroglyphics made up of about 700 “glyphs.” A glyph is a picture or a symbol used to represent a sound, a word, or a syllable. The Maya wrote books about their gods, leaders, daily life, and events. Maya books were made of soft bark and were folded like a fan. The reader had to unfold them to read them. These books are called “codices.” Teacher’s notes: A single book is called a “codex.” Many of these books were illustrated with drawings.

32 Codices/Stelae When the Spanish arrived, about 600 years after the Maya civilization had disappeared, they found many Maya artifacts, including codices. The Spanish burned all the codices they found. Fortunately, the Maya also wrote things down on temple walls, pillars, and huge stones called “stelae.” Teacher’s notes: A stela is a very large stone slab inscribed with hieroglyphics. Stelae were placed where people could see them. Scholars have difficulty understanding the complicated written language of the ancient Maya; even today, they can only read about 80% of the glyphs they have come across. What they can read has told us a great deal about ancient Maya religion, government, and daily life.

33 Language Questions Did the Mayas have a written language?
What are codices? What is a glyph? Teacher’s notes: Yes Maya books written on bark and folded like a fan A glyph is a picture or symbol used to represent a sound, a word, or a syllable.

34 Mysterious Maya One day, after 1300 years of civilization, the Maya abandoned their cities. No one knows why, or where they went. Their cities fell into ruin, and were swallowed by the rain forest. For this reason, scholars call these people “the mysterious Maya.” Today, about two million people of Maya descent live in Middle America.

35 Achievements/ Inventions
A system of writing A 365-day calendar A system of government Fair laws and trials with judges Pottery Pyramids and temples Ball courts Corn tortillas Chocolate Over 1000 dances Masks Fabrics and embroidery Fabulous headdresses Huge earrings Teacher’s notes: Many of the fabulous and complicated Maya dances are still performed today.

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