The Maya

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The Mayas were called the Old Empire, however this was incorrect. There was never a central government between the Mayan cities nor any attempt to do so. The Mayan culture was a group of city-states that were independent, but shared a general culture, economy, and politics.


The Mayan culture spread throughout a great area. They were present in the Mexican states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, and Campeche. They were also in Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Like many other civilizations in the past, the Mayans were created by the joining of many people in a small area. They settled at a crossroads, where North America meets with South America. It is a blind alley and quite narrow.

There were diverse environments in the zone. Mountainous regions existed to the south, in central America, and to the west, in Chiapas. In Guatemala, there were plains, as well as in Yucatan. Mountain rivers irrigated the land. The ocean could also be found all around their lands, in almost any direction.

The place where the Maya settled is very rich. The proximity with the ocean allowed the fishing of snails and shellfish, as well as using the seas as a trading route. There is also a great variety of flora and fauna, created by the mixing of those typically found in North America and those found in South America. There were many trees that could be used as raw materials. Special kinds of soil found in that area were important in construction. The quetzal, whose feathers were considered quite valuable, lived in those areas. Obsidian, which could be made into weapons or traded, was there due to nearby volcanos.


The First Mayas

The ancestors of the Maya arrived from Asia like all other pre-hispanic people, through the Bering Straight. It is known that during 2500 BC, they settled where the state of Veracruz1 now exists. During this time, there were people in the lands of the Maya, but those were other groups that would move on.

These early Mayas began spreading south, following the coast. As the moved south, other groups also began to grow besides them. One group, called the Zoque, grew in between the place where the Mayas had settled, separating them into two groups. Those that remained in Veracruz no longer had anything to do what would become the Maya civilisation. They did help create the Huastecans2.

Those that were separated continued moving towards the southeast, populating Guatemala, Honduras, and Chiapas. There they settled and lived off hunting and fishing. This was complemented by farming, which was done by making terraces on the swamps, which ensured that their soil had good levels of moisture.

Around 2000 BC, villages began to appear around the highlands, Belize, and Honduras. Since an constant and adequate supply of food was needed for the people to survive, the gods had to be pleased. Therefore these villages were ran by a priest, who served as governor.

By 1000 BC, the area was already occupied by those that give the Mayans their characteristics. There were differences between the regions. However, the same style of ceramics was held by them all. The villages during this time had more complicated constructions. Those buildings that required more work showed that the local priest had a greater power over the people.

The Olmec Influence


The City-States.


1Veracruz is located on the coast, besides the Gulf of Mexico.2A pre-hispanic civilisation that lived in norther Veracruz and southern Tamaulipas. Their descendants still live there.

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