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Ancient Maya was a large, influential empire in its time.

The Mayans lived from around
1800 BC to around 900 AD, with the exception of a few cities. By the time of the Spanish
invasion of the area, most Mayans had abandoned their former cities in favor of agriculture-
driven villages. During its existence, the Mayan empire encompassed southern Mexico
(including the Yucatan Peninsula), Guatemala, Belize, and some parts of El Salvador and
Honduras. Originally, the Maya lived in individual states connected by trade and alliances. Later,
the civilization became an empire led by an extremely powerful central figure. The leader was
succeeded by their oldest male relative, or if there were no living males, chosen by a council.
The Mayan religion was polytheistic. Its gods resembled and behaved like humans,
including being born and dying. The Mayan people constructed many pyramids, usually with flat
tops. They also believed that everyone had a “Way’ ob,” what the modern world would likely call
a “spirit animal.” It was taught that each person could transform into their “animal companion.”
Another aspect of the Mayan religion is more disturbing: human sacrifice. Performed in an
attempt to appease gods, these public slaughters were usually done at large festivals, compared to
animal sacrifices made very frequently and without much fanfare. The Mayans believed that only
human sacrifices and those who died in childbirth would be free of the terrifying underworld to
which all others would be sent.
Some intellectual and cultural developments of the Mayan empire include the calendar,
language, and architecture. The calendar is well-known for its supposed “prediction” of the end
of the world, set to happen December 12, 2012. However, this was a common misconception.
The Mayan calendar was always made to be a cycle, therefore the significance of the day was no
more than the calendar starting over. Another development was language. The Mayan language
had many regional variations, some of which are still spoken. The writing system was made of
complex hieroglyphs, only recently deciphered. The ability to translate the pictures has
revolutionized the study of the Mayan culture. Finally, Mayan architecture’s most recognizable
development is of course the flat-topped pyramids mentioned before. These pyramids are a true
constructional feat, considering they were built without any of the modern tools available today.
The Mayan economy was heavily dependent on agriculture. Everyone who wasn’t a
priest or other leader farmed, mainly corn, but also beans, squash, chili peppers, vanilla, cacao,
and avocado. They also did quite a bit of trading, normally using beans, shells, or other small
objects as a form of payment. Main trade items were obviously partially agricultural, but also
included some stones, such as turquoise, obsidian, and limestone.
The Mayans had a clearly defined social hierarchy. On top were the nobles, whose status
and occupation was determined through a complex web of importance. Jobs in the nobility were
passed down much like the job of the leader themselves, to the closest living male relative. Next
were the commoners. These were ordinary people, usually farmers. Commoners could become
rather wealthy through their trade or military service, but still could not be considered nobility or
own the things nobles were allowed to posses. Finally, the lowest were the slaves. People became
slaves by committing certain crimes, not paying back debts, or on occasion being prisoners of
war. The slave trade in Maya was active and both commoners and nobility could own them.
Sources
http://www.history.com/topics/maya
https://maya.nmai.si.edu/the-maya/maya-world
http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/c.php?g=424847&p=3593017
http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp264-ss13/2013/04/24/mayans-religion-gods-animal-
spirits-and-pyramids/
https://maya.nmai.si.edu/calendar/calendar-system
https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2012/14dec_yesterday/
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mayan-languages
http://history-world.org/maya.htm
https://www.thoughtco.com/mayan-economics-food-diet-171606
http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/c.php?g=424847&p=3593020