Who were the Mayas? The Mayas were an ancient civilization (tribe of people) who settled in the rugged highlands (mountain area) and dense swamps of southern Mexico and Central America beginning in 2,500 B.C. There were also some tribes who lived in the jungles. This included the Yucatan Peninsula to the north and today’s countries of Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, and Guatemala, to the south. The Mayan culture spread from the Gulf of Mexico in the west, to the Caribbean Sea in the east.
Mayan People The Mayan people were short. The men were about 5 feet tall, while the women were about 4 feet 8 inches tall. Mayan people had straight black hair, and often painted their bodies black, red, or blue, and were often covered in tattoos. They valued crossed eyes and flattened foreheads.
Mayan Eras Historians divide the story of the people into 3 eras 1. The Pre-classic 2. The Classic 3. The Post-classic
The Pre-Classic Era The pre-classic lasted from about 2,500 B.C. to A.D. 250. During this time, the Mayas came into contact with the Olmec Indians. Their early settlements were fishing villages along the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Seas. They moved inland when they learned how to grow crops.
The Classic Era The classic era continued from A.D. 250 to A.D. 900. During this time, they built many great cities. Most of these cities had majestic pyramid temples. The Mayas improved methods of agriculture during this time. They also developed advanced mathematics and astronomy, as well as a system of writing.
The Post-Classic Era The post-classic era began with the collapse of the Mayan. It lasted until the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s. The Mayas continued to farm and trade in their region.
Mayan Agriculture The Mayas used a variety of methods to obtain food. The method they used depended on their location, since methods used in the forest did not work in the swamps. The earliest Mayas were hunters and gathers. They fished and hunted for food, including birds, rabbits, monkeys, and deer. They gathered wild fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
Growing Crops Hunting and gathering, however, could not provide enough for the ever increasing Mayan population, so they had to plant crops to survive. One method of growing crops that they used was the slash and burn method.
Slash and Burn Men cut forests down with stone axes and then let the trees dry thoroughly. They then burned the dried trees to clear the land. The ashes provided fertilizer for the soil. The Mayas planted seeds, mainly maize (corn), using a planting stick. This method wore out the soil quickly. The fields had to be at rest for 2 to 3 years before replanting. These fields had field crops, as well as fruit orchards and vegetable gardens.
Crops The Mayas raised a variety of crops Maize Beans Chilis Peppers Squash Potatoes Avocados Pumpkin They also grew cacao plants that produced a bean that made chocolate. In addition to food crops, farmers also grew hemp to make rope and cotton for cloth.
Problems with Growing Crops Water for the crops was always a concern. Droughts often destroyed the crops. The Mayas built water reservoirs using man- made dams and also created irrigation systems to help bring water to the crops.
Growing Crops in Swampy Areas The Mayas developed a special way of growing crops in swampy areas. Workers dug up mounds of soil. They then planted and harvested the crops on the mound areas. The ditches they dug out provided canals around the mounds for irrigation.
Religion and Agriculture Religion played an important part in Mayan farming. The priests chose the special days for planting and harvesting. The Mayans had special celebrations and rituals in honor of Chac, the god of rain. They believe that he would send the much needed rain if the celebrations pleased him.
Reminders The Mayan were an ancient group of people who lived in the rugged highlands and dense swamps of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Mayas used a variety of methods to obtain food. The method they used depended on their location. The Mayas started out as hunters and gatherers, but that was not enough. They had to start to grow crops. The Mayas used the Slash and Burn method of agriculture. Maize and the cacao bean were important crops for the Mayans. Growing crops in swampy areas was difficult, so they dug mounds of soil to make canals for irrigating.