When we look back at the pre-Colombian civilizations of Central America, two names flash bright – the Aztecs and the Mayans. Comparatively, the Mayans were far more resilient and survived way longer than the Aztecs. Take a look below for 25 awesome and interesting facts about the Mayans.
1. Exactly how the Mayan Empire met its end is really not known. By the time the Spanish explorers came to the places where the Mayans thrived, many cities were already in their ruins, long abandoned with no trace of what happened. Climate change, drought, famine and overpopulation are some of the possible causes as hypothesized by the historians.
2. The Mayans were one of the first people to use the symbol for zero. Yes, zero was already there and the Sumerians used it before the Mayans. The Sumerians however used a slanted double wedge to denote that a number is absent. Using the symbol of zero as a place holder came from Mayans. However, they really did not use zero as a number.
3. Nobelwomen in the Mayan culture used to have their teeth filed and shaped into points.
4. Mayans never used steel or iron. All their weapons were made of volcanic rock known as obsidian.
5. Mayans were literate people and they came up with their own writing system which was one of the most complex writing systems to have ever existed on this planet. They actually wrote on almost anything they could lay their hands on.
6. Mayans made use of different calendars (3 to be precise). Of these one was more like the modern Gregorian calendar that had 365 days. However, they also used the Long Count calendar which was deemed to be reset in 2012, leading to the prophecy of destruction of world in 2012. The Long Count calendar they used cycles every 2,880,000 days.
7. As mentioned, Mayans used various calendars but interestingly the Long Count calendar never came up with the prophecy of doomsday. The cause for such panic is modern thinking. We failed to understand that the calendar only speaks of resetting and not complete destruction.
8. Many of the written works of the Maya people were totally destroyed during Spanish conquest. Whatever was left behind was salvaged after hard work of scavenging and they were complete translated during 20th century and 21st century.
9. Mayans had very brutal human sacrifice rituals. The people who were usually sacrificed were slaves and prisoners. The less common method of sacrificing a human was to make him stand in front of a volley of arrows.
10. The more common method of sacrificing a human was to paint the victim in blue color and then carrying him to the top of one of the pyramids where the victim would be held down while a priest would cut out the beating heart of the person. At times, an assistant priest would skin the victim and give the skin to the priest who would then wear the skin and perform a ritualistic dance in front of the gathered crowd.
11. Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan cities. The largest city was Tikal which spanned over an area of 123 sq. km. The Mayan pyramids that we usually see in photographs are from Chichen Itza, which was once privately owned but later the government purchased it from the owner.
12. The blood sacrifice of the ancient Mayans is still practiced by the Maya people who still live today. The only difference between now and then is that the present Mayas sacrifice chickens and not humans. The direct descendants are spread all over Yucatan Peninsula, Chiapas and Tabasco, Belize and Guatemala.
13. Mayans were pretty advanced when it came to medical knowledge. They knew how to fill teeth, use human hair for suturing wounds etc. They even knew how to create prosthesis.
14. They even made use of painkillers as anesthetics for the purpose of medicinal use and also as hallucinogenic agent during religious rituals. They extracted the pain killers from their environment.
15. Mesoamerican Ballgame was one of the favorite pastime games for the Mayans. Many courts have been found in almost all major Mayan cities. However, the game was usually associated with decapitation of the members of the losing team.
16. Many historians believe that the Maya people actually used decapitated heads as balls during the Mesoamerican Ballgames. However, historians have actually gathered evidences that Mayans had pretty advanced knowledge of rubber that they created using natural latex. Historians believe that they even created various qualities of rubber by mixing rubber latex with other plant substances and they even made the bouncy variants that they possibly used as balls during the games.
17. Maya people who continue to live even today have a modern version of the game their ancient ancestors used to play. However, unlike their ancestors, modern-day Mayans do not use decapitated human heads for the game. The modern version of the game is known as Ulama.
18. Sweat baths and saunas were popular in Mayan culture. They had a strong belief that saunas were a means of ridding themselves of the impurities that plague them.
19. The Mayans had this habit of naming their newborns based on their day of birth. In Mayan calendar each day had assigned names for boys and girls. The parents literally followed that.
20. Did you know Tayasal – an island city of the Maya people was the last independent and self-governing Mayan state that survived till 1697 before it finally gave into Spanish rule?
21. Mayans also possessed some advanced astronomical knowledge and their calendar was based on this knowledge. They used to keep detailed records of planetary movements, movements of sun, stars and moon.
22. Mayans strongly believed that the sun and the moon and the stars were actually gods who moved across the sky and they market the events like equinoxes, eclipses, and solstice in their temples.
23. Mayans were among one of the earliest civilizations in world to use the art of tattooing. Men and even women used to tattoo their bodies with elaborate designs.
24. The Mayans were incredible architects too! They built some of the most stunning temples and pyramids of their times. When it comes to pyramids, the Mayans possibly even outsmarted Egyptians. One of the famous and largest pyramids in world is La Danta.
25. Some historians believe that the Peak of La Danta is bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza. They think that the pyramid contains 99 million cubic feet of fill and rock.