One of the most popular and enigmatic civilizations that our planet has known is the Maya civilization. Their history began around 2000 BC and ended not so long after the conquest. And colonization of Mesoamerica by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. Still, due to the climate that quickly covered everything in thick jungles. Most of the Mayan cities remain intact, including some more ancient finds. That’s why, to this very day, historians and archaeologists make breathtaking discoveries.
Not only in Mesoamerica, but in the world as well, the Maya had one of the most profound writing systems. It was logo syllabic, indicating that the way they were pronounced, they could actually write down the words. Their method of writing consists of over 800 hieroglyphs, some of which have not yet been deciphered.
It comes as no surprise that the Maya wrote actual books about their history. Religion , and culture with such an intricate writing method. Just three Mayan codices survived until now, to the greatest desperation of modern historians. The humid climate did not survive any of the books. But most of them were destroyed by Catholic priests and Spanish colonizers, who burned them in bulk.
The people of the Maya were probably not the first to produce. And drink cocoa (historians point to the more ancient culture of the Olmec). But they were definitely the ones who popularized cocoa. It was a big part of their daily lives, their holy rituals, and their religious practices. Drinking cocoa was an art form, and for cocoa-drinking ceremonies, special ceramic vessels were made. The amount of cocoa beans was also a symbol of prestige. Indicating that more cocoa was available to Mayan kings and merchants than to all other individuals. As money, it was also used!
It might be hard to believe, but the Maya people came from Siberia, actually! Ok, of course, that happened thousands of years ago. But you can still see the similarity between the Siberian people and the Mayans in their facial features. It all occurred when ancient people migrated from Asia to the American continent during the last ice age. People live in Chukotka, Siberia, still use the same numeral system used by the Mayans!
According to the Mayan calendar, you must recall the speculation about 2012 being the last year for humanity. Oh, of course, nothing happened, and there’s an explanation. The Mayan calendar, known as the Long Count calendar. Did not predict the end of the world, it only claimed that it was the end of an age, a period of 5125 years. That was coming to an end. They have used several other calendars besides that calendar: Tzolk’in for religious occasions and Haab ‘, a solar calendar of 365 days.
The Maya people had very peculiar expectations of beauty and were not happy with the way they were made by nature. Having an elongated skull with a very smooth frontal bone was considered lovely. They would tie special wooden planks to the heads of babies to bend them in this specific way to achieve that effect. Among men, a crooked, eagle-like nose was often considered attractive. All these qualities were considered noble and were the standards of beauty for most individuals. Chubbiness has also been a symbol of wealth and elegance.
Pitz, a game somewhat similar to modern soccer, was invented by the Maya people. Using just their feet and no hands right into the stone hoop put up high, two teams of men had to pass a rubber ball. As the games typically turned out to be very rough, the men wear special safety gear. Some of the games had religious objectives and could end with human sacrifices. It was not just for recreation.
The Mayans invented and widely used their own sauna-like structures for cleaning purposes. These structures, often made of stone, have served the same function they do today-to improve health and cleanse the body. The earliest found sweat bath dates back 3,000 years, far earlier than the Roman civilization’s equivalent baths!
Why the Maya civilization came to an end is still a mystery (apart from the later colonizers of the Spanish Empire, of course). Up until the 8th century, things were going well for the Mayans, but then the civilization began to decline, with large cities soon being abandoned. It was warfare, famine, overpopulation, or the combination of all three that accelerated the collapse of the Maya civilization, historians suppose, but no one knows for sure. And not much written proof is left to shed light on the events of those days.
Despite all of the talk regarding their culture vanishing, the Maya people are still alive. They speak thousands of languages that are all called ‘Maya’ from different ethnic groups, which is an umbrella word for hundreds of ethnicities. In the last 500 years, they have been heavily oppressed, first by the Spanish, then by different diseases, and then by the modern American government. Even, much of their culture and heritage have been preserved and they have fought hard to get back their ancestral lands.