Between 300 and 900 A.D. in what is present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, a civilization flourished - the ancient Maya. This fascinating culture has always been a source of contention among historians, and elements of their existence remain something of an enigma even today. Not everything has been forgotten to the past though. Here are some amazing facts that we actually do know about the Maya civilization.
We often associate human sacrifice with the Aztecs, a culture from central Mexico. This is primarily because the Spanish conquistadors were present to witness it. However, it's almost certain that the Maya also offered up humans to their gods. Different city-states of the civilization were often at war with one another, and enemy soldiers were taken captive either to be enslaved or sacrificed.
From an academic point of view, the Maya were extremely advanced - they were literate, had a full written language, and even books. The Maya language was a complex arrangement of glyphs that represented words and syllables. Not all Mayans could read, and it seemed to be reserved primarily for the priest class. Sadly, the Spanish invaders destroyed thousands of these books and only four originals remain today.
The Maya traded extensively throughout modern-day Central America, often for basic necessities such as tools, weapons, clothing, and food, as well as more prestigious items like feathers, obsidian, and gold. These luxury items were a big deal for the ruling class, and they would often be buried with their possessions, helping archaeologists and historians understand more about Mayan life and, in particular, who they traded with.
One of the great myths about the Maya civilization is that they believed the world would end in the year 2012. The reason for this is that the Maya calendar reset to zero on 21 December 2012, leading to all kinds of speculation about a reckoning for the earth as we know it. Contrary to this belief, the Maya had no particular feelings about the resetting of their calendar, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that they ever predicted any disasters.
To this day, it remains unclear what actually became of the ancient Maya civilization. Records show that in 700 A.D. they were still thriving - trade was booming, and scientific and cultural achievements in astronomy, art, and architecture were being made at an impressive rate. However, by 900 A.D. the powerful hubs of ancient Maya had fallen into decline, soon to be abandoned. We still don't know what exactly happened. Popular suggestions include climate change, warfare, disease, or famine. Perhaps the likeliest reason is a combination of all of these factors.
Thankfully, some ancestors of the ancient Maya are still around today. In Guatemala and parts of Mexico and Belize, there are ethnic groups who still maintain traditions including religion, language, and clothing that date back to the days of the mighty civilization.