The Mayas (300s-1500s)
Standards: 7.7.1
  • Study the locations, landforms, and climates of Mexico, Central America, and South America and their effects on Mayan, Aztec, and Incan economies, trade, and development of urban societies.
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The Rise of the Mayas

Key Terms and People

Mesoamerica: a region extending from central Mexico into northern Central America

slash-and-burn agriculture: clearing small plots of land by cutting down the forest and burning the felled trees and plants to use as fertilizer

John L. Stephens: an American explorer

Frederick Catherwood: a British artist

drought: a prolonged period of little or no rainfall


Section Notes

The Mesoamerican Setting

  • The Maya homeland contained both lowlands and highlands. Some of the mountains in the highlands were active volcanoes, and ash from their eruptions made the highlands soil fertile and rich. The climate of the highlands was cool, with a distinct wet and dry season. In contrast, the lowlands were hot and flat. Much of the lowlands were covered with a dense rain forest. Because the rain forest soil was thin and fragile, the Mayas developed a farming method called slash-and-burn agriculture.

Maya Civilization

  • In 1839, the American explorer John L. Stephens teamed up with British artist Frederick Catherwood. They went to Central America to find out if rumors about hidden ancient ruins were true. They found ancient sites buried underneath the jungle growth. . At its core, or center, a large Maya city usually had hundreds of buildings, including stone pyramids, temples, and palaces. Most people lived close to the core.
  • Scholars divide Maya civilization into three main periods:
    1. Pre-Classic (1800 B.C. to A.D. 250) the height of the civilization
    2. Classic (A.D. 250 to 900) built dozens of cities, and formed complex societies
    3. Post-Classic (900 to 1500s) Maya civilization collapsed
  • Scholars believe the collapse could have been caused by factors such as warfare, food shortages, disease, and natural disasters including drought.


Summary: Maya civilization developed in the area of the Americas known as Mesoamerica. The Mayas had a rich and bright culture that lasted for hundreds of years.

Study Guide Questions

How were the two geographic regions of the Maya homeland different?

What were the characteristics of Maya civilization during the Classic period?

Where did the Maya civilization develop?

Why did the Mayas use slash-and-burn agriculture?

When did Maya civilization reach its height?

How did the economic system contribute to the Mayas not clustering in cities?

Practice Test

Homework: Choose one
  1. Workbook Chapter 7 Section 1 (Page 85)
  2. Answer three of the study guide questions using complete sentences.
  3. Draw a picture of something important from this section and summarize this section of the text (three sentences minimum).