The Mayans


Join Active Minds for an overview of Mayan history, culture, art, and science.  This program will provide attendees with a solid understanding of Mayan civilization.  Attendees will leave with a greater appreciation for one of the great civilizations in the history of the world.

Key Lecture Points

  • The Maya are an indigenous people who have continuously inhabited present day Yucatan, parts of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas, Guatemala, Belize, Western Honduras and El Salvador since roughly 2500 BCE.
  • The Mayan Civilization was an important society in Mesoamerica, influenced by a predecessor, the Olmec, who occupied adjacent territory from roughly 1800 BCE- 400 BCE.  During the Golden Age of the Mayan Civilization, 250-900 CE, 40 Maya city-states traded with one another and shared religious and cultural practices.
  • The Mayan culture was noteworthy for its architecture and art, as well as its advanced sciences and mathematics.  The Maya built great cities with massive pyramids and other remarkable edifices, all of it achieved without the wheel or metal tools.  The Maya were also the first culture in Mesoamerica to develop a writing system, preserved in written documents called codices.  Mayan mathematics (which included the concept of the number zero) allowed them to develop a highly accurate calendar, and a close study of the stars.
  • Despite its advanced nature, the flourishing Mayan civilization declined and fell by the 900s CE.  The cause is unknown, but most scholars suggest that the decline was triggered by multiple causes including drought, warfare and overpopulation.
  • The Maya territories came under Spanish control very gradually, beginning in the 1500s.   But the Maya proved difficult to subdue.  They continued to rebel throughout the 17th century.  In 1847 the Maya in Yucatan launched a major uprising called the Caste War that continued until 1901.
  • Concerted European explorations of Ancient Mayan ruins began in the 1830s but ceased during the Caste War.  One of the first explorers to resume explorations was Edward Herbert Thompson, sent to Yucatan as the American consul.  He purchased the ruins at Chichen-Itza and made many discoveries that have leant themselves to the modern understanding of the Maya civilization.
  • Although the magnificent Mayan cities were abandoned over 1000 years ago, over six million Maya still live in Mexico and Central America, carrying forward their languages and culture.
  • The Denver Museum of Nature and Science will provide a look into this culture when “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed” opens February 14, 2014.  The exhibit runs until August 24, 2014.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the major characteristics of the Mayan civilization?
  • How did the Mayan religion influence Maya culture?

Reflective Questions

  • What impresses you the most about the Mayan civilization?
  • Have you ever traveled to Chichen-Itza or seen other Mayan ruins?  What was your reaction?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Stray, Geoff. The Mayan and Other Ancient Calendars. Walker & Company, 2007. 64 pages. Guide to the Mayan calendar system as well as the development of calendar systems in other parts of the world.
    Click here to order
  • Jeffrey, S. B. A Brief History of the Ancient Peoples of Mexico from the Aztecs to the Mayan Culture.  Webster Digital Services, 2011. 230 pages. Describes the ancient civilizations of Mexico including the Olmec, Izapa, Zapotec and Mixtec as well as the Aztecs and Mayans.
    Click here to order