Last Updated 21 Mar 2021

Mayan Civilization and Ruins

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Since the dawn of mankind, there has always been civilizations have that have made a lasting impression on the world. There very few civilizations that have been that have achieved the term greatness associated with it and ‘Mayan civilization’ is one of the rare few. It can be dubbed as one of the longest serving civilizations of the ancient times as it is noted that it started around 1000 B.C but ended by 1500 A.D. It was considered as they were one of the most advance civilizations on the western hemisphere until the arrival of the Europeans. This civilization was located in Central America and was found from the north central down to the southern part of Mexico. This was a civilization that went through periodical changes in its living due to external factors associated with it.

This Native American culture is noted in the history as one of the advance civilizations of that era. There has been a popular belief that has been associated with the Mayan civilization that it was an amalgamated empire. In actual terms it was a whole host of divided units having a common cultural background. The entire ‘Yucatan Peninsula’ had around 20 states which were all ruled by different sovereign leadership, but on an inventive logic, they were a nation on their own with religion being an important aspect of their lives. Since the Mayan civilization was spread on a large area, the geographical conditions for the civilization varied with extremities, which can adjudged from the fact they had volcanic mountains from the highlands in the south to porous limestone areas dominating the central and the northern regions of the civilization.

Mayan civilization can be categorized into three categories, pre-classic period, classic period and post classic period. The entire culture has revolved and evolved around these three periods. The civilization had huge forests and because of the diversity of the topographical situation of the civilization, varied no of animals like the ‘caiman’, a fierce kind of crocodile to different kinds of monkeys was found.

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Mayan pre classic period

This was supposed to be the period of formulation in which the population boomed and new innovative techniques were made for agriculture. The leaders were chosen from strong spiritual backgrounds and it was considered as that the lowlands of the civilization held acute importance because it was supposed to be a ceremonial centre. The following will explain the Mayan professional inclinations and techniques:

‘In the Preclassic period, they adopted intensive farming techniques such as continuous cultivation involving crop rotation and fertilizers, household gardens, and terraces. In some areas, they built raised fields in seasonal swamps. Their main crops included maize (corn), beans, squash, avocados, chili peppers, pineapples, papayas, and cacao, which was made into a chocolate drink with water and hot chilies. Rabbits, deer, and turkeys were hunted for making stews. Fishing also supplied part of their diet. Turkeys, ducks, and dogs were kept as domesticated animals. When they were not hunting, fishing, or in the fields, Maya men made stone tools, clay figurines, jade carvings, ropes, baskets, and mats. The women made painted pottery vessels out of coiled strands of clay, and they wove ponchos, men’s loincloths’ (Encarta)

Mayans were very much influenced by spirituality and had gods for almost every thing that even included gods for rains, good harvest. As time passed by the study of astronomy became popular in that era leading to studies of astrology on the basis of sun moon and other planets. Major edifices were constructed then like ‘kaminaljuyu’ and ‘tikal’ were constructed which were pyramid shaped high temples, where the system of sacrifice was started to be used. More and more massive pyramids started building in that era and the priests started enjoying super powers. Women weren’t that important from political point of view and it was a very rare sight to see women on top chieftain positions.

Mayan Classic period

This was an era of the Mayan civilization that can be considered as its prime era and here the system of king and kingship started which had a system of the king’s family continuing as future leaders. There was also a hierarchical system in which the government functioned.  There was major research done in the field of medicine and writing was developed extensively. The subject of astronomy had become more enhance with calculative movements predicting rains to fortune to the cities.  This was the time when societies had turned into complex models the king was noted the highest figure after which there were the priests and then the nobles who mainly responsible for protecting land and attacking enemies. This was the time of more gore and violence and mini wars were constantly waged between one and other.

What mad this era special was the Mayan civilization themselves started noting rituals and their history with their elaborative writing skills. The transition of power from generations to ethical rituals along with its architectural secrets was all jotted down on stone and wood. Later on folding tree books were made as they were more handy then carrying stones. Due to the high humidity and invasions, these books didn’t survive and only 4 books are known today, i.e., the Dresden codex, the Madud coded, the Paris codex and the Grolier codex. The learning also was limited to mostly priests and few nobles and a monopoly was played so that only few people could learn and use their knowledge on others. The writing also consisted of mostly pictures and pictography was first devised by Mayan civilization for learning purposes. This was also an important era that marked trade as an important aspect of the civilization. Sacrifice was an important aspect for the culture and the following would hard line the fact of Mayan civilizations involvement in sacrifices:‘Indian pictorial texts known as "codices,'' as well as Spanish accounts from the time, quote Indians as describing multiple forms of human sacrifice. Victims had their hearts cut out or were decapitated, shot full of arrows, clawed, sliced to death, stoned, crushed, skinned, buried alive or tossed from the tops of temples. Children were said to be frequent victims, in part because they were considered pure and unspoiled. The first researchers tried to make a distinction between the 'peaceful' Maya and the 'brutal' cultures of central Mexico and But in carvings and mural paintings, he said, "we have now found more and greater similarities between the Aztecs and Mayas,'' including a Maya ceremony in which a grotesquely costumed priest is shown pulling the entrails from a bound and apparently living sacrificial victim’ (Mark Stevenson).

Mayan post Classic period

This can be considered as a time when the decline of the Mayan civilization started step by step. Since the governments had become much segmented, there was more violence and war during that phase, where entire villages would get destroyed in the name of war. There was also the Toltec domination followed by Spanish invaders taking over Mexico by the early 16th century.  This was however the phase of having plastered walls and painted murals. Socially the civilization had peaked and it was mandatory for guests to bring in gifts while visits. Slave culture flourished in this era and slaves which were mostly people who were captured from wars were highly mistreated and often sacrificed after their masters dies, as they had an ideology that they would serve their masters in afterlife.

Mayan Ruins

Ruins of Mayan civilization can still be found it the entire peninsula. Their culture had so many architectural advancements that it is today possible to watch quiet a lot of their ruins and gather more information about them. Ruins like ‘the temple of the inscriptions’ in Mexico and the ‘Palenque’ are very prominent ruins of the civilization. The former rises 75 feet and it is rested neatly over a hill and is one of the prime examples free standing pyramids. Another site in Mexico located in Coba, was built around 4 large lake structures and had been inhabitant for more than thousand years. The biggest pyramid of that site 120 feet and is known as Nohoch Mul. The following piece will explain the beauty and architectural genius of the civilization:

‘Miguel Ángel Asturias, named Nobel Laureate in 1967, wrote "Only Guatemala is comparable to itself," describing it as "a land of natural dreamscapes...mysterious presences and absences." Tikal, the largest known Mayan city, is incomparable in the same way; its size imposing and intimidating, its setting lush and teeming with wildlife, and with a mysterious and overwhelming atmosphere best described in the writing of Asturias’


  1. Encarta, “ Mayan civilization”.
  2. Mark Stevenson, “Evidence may back human sacrifice claims”.
  3. Maya Ruins, “Photos of Tikal”.








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