The Mayas (300s-1500s)
Standards: 7.7.4
  • Describe the artistic and oral traditions and architecture in the three civilizations.
Standards: 7.7.5
  • Describe the Meso-American achievements in astronomy and mathematics, including the development of the calendar and the Meso-American knowledge of seasonal changes to the civilizations agricultural systems.
Maya Achievements

Key Terms and People

elite: An elite is a small group of highly privileged or skilled people.

hieroglyph: a symbol that stands for a word, idea, or sound

codex: an ancient book that was written by hand

Pacal: a great king that ruled the city of Palenque between A.D. 615 and 683

18 Rabbit: a king that ruled Copan at its height

stela: a carved stone slab or pillar usually created to celebrate an event or a person

Section Notes

Advances in Learning

  • Maya writing was based on a system of hieroglyphs. The Mayas created 800 glyphs. Scribes use the language to keep records in a codex. Probably only scribes and an elite of nobles were able to read hieroglyphs. Almost all Maya paper writings have been lost. The stone carvings that remain mostly celebrate great rulers and their deeds, but tell scholars little about everyday life.
  • The Mayas were brilliant astronomers. They plotted the position of the sun, moon, and planets and could predict events such as eclipses without a telescope. They developed a calendar which enabled them to plan festivals and agricultural activities based on seasonal changes. They created an advanced number system and understood the concept of zero long before Europeans did.

Artistic Achievements

  • Maya cities were designed around central areas where pyramids, temples, and palaces were located. These buildings were made of large stone blocks and were built without wheeled vehicles or work animals. They had to use stone tools to cut the blocks. Pyramids were the largest construction in Maya cities. Artists also created fine pottery, jewelry, masks, and stelas.

Summary: The Mayas developed a complex writing system and excelled in astronomy and math. Surviving buildings and artifacts show the great skill of Maya artists and architects.

Study Guide Questions

What did the Maya astronomers and mathematicians accomplish?

Why was the construction of Maya cities so difficult?

What Kind of Writing System Did the Mayas Have?

Why was the writing system important for other Maya advances in learning?

What were the main features of Maya cities?

How might the rain forest have affected the preservation of Maya cities?

Practice Test

Homework: Choose one
  1. Workbook Chapter 7, section 3 (Page 91)
  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).