The mythical jungles of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and the Yucatan peninsula were home to the Ancient Mayans, an extraordinarily advanced agricultural civilization that flourished in the western hemisphere while much of Europe was still mired in the Dark Ages. The Ancient Mayan displayed extraordinary characteristics that included an original writing system, complex calendars and a surprising understanding of astronomical principles. They possessed only rudimentary tools and no beasts of burden, yet they constructed spectacular cites characterized by highly evolved architecture and amazingly skilled stoneworkers who left a legacy of architectural perfection that remains unmatched. The extent of Mayan architecture is staggering in the context of the primitive tools and skills available to them.
The Ancient Mayans are the most recognized culture of classic Mesoamerican civilizations. Their origins are rooted in the Yucatan peninsula about 2600B.C. and their influence lasted over 3000 years with the most prominent period occurring about 250 A.D. By 300 B. C. the Maya had developed a complex hierarchical system of government with prominent rulers and Kings. During the Classic Period from A.D. 200 to A.D. 900 the civilization evolved a well structured system of kingdoms and rulers and an expansive trade network.

The Decline of the Ancient Mayans

ancient Mayans

The Ancient Mayans - One of the Core Cultures of Mesoamerica

The Ancient Mayans civilization evolved from the earlier Olmec culture in northern Yucatan. At their height, they formed numerous independent states each of which incorporated large urban cores with central ceremonial centers surrounded by expansive farming areas and a broad network of trading routes. City areas were characterized by great pyramids and temples, ornate palaces and astronomical observatories all constructed with elaborate ceremonial architecture. Cities and rural communities were well organized and there were recognizable tiers of society. Their decline may have been precipitated by over-clearing of the tropical rainforest and the onset of extraordinary and lengthy periods of drought for which they were wholly unprepared. The growth of cities eventually exceeded the ability of the agricultural system to feed the growing population. Their demise is not fully understood, but it is known that the southern Maya began to abandon their cities around 900 A. D. By 1200 A. D. the Maya had faded almost to extinction in less than 50 years and their survivors were largely adopted by the Toltec society in the north.

One of the most unfortunate events of the history of the Ancient Mayans was the relentless campaign of Diego de Landa, a Franciscan friar, who in 1547 determined that the Maya writings were the devil’s own work. He embarked on a mission to round up and burn all of the writings of Mayan scribes who described thousands of years of knowledge and experience accumulated by the Mayans before their fall. He pursued and killed anyone who could write or read Maya and eventually succeeded in wiping out almost the entire record of the Ancient Mayans experience.