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Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Lost Cities of the Mayas

The Mayas
The civilization of the Mayas was one of the longest- lasting civilizations of the ancient Americas. The Mayan way of life began to form around 500 B.C. The earliest Mayas lived as farmers in the tropical rain forests of southern Mexico and Central America. By building on ideas borrowed from the Olmecs, the Mayan civilization grew strong.

The "Lost Cities" of the Mayas
The Mayas built more than 100 cities and towns deep in the rain forests of the region that today includes Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. Their culture was strong during the time between A.D. 300 and A.D. 900. This time has become known as the Classic period of the Mayas.

The Mayas were skilled architects and builders. Their cities had temples, pyramids, ball courts, palaces, and plazas. At the height of the Classic period, some Mayan cities had huge populations.

After A.D. 900 the Mayan civilization fell into decline. For many centuries the cities and towns of the Classic period lay in ruins, hidden by thick rain forests.

Then, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the "lost cities" were rediscovered. Even today, archaeologists are making new finds at the sites of these ancient cities.

The largest of the ancient Mayan cities was Tikal (tih*KAHL). At the site of the ancient city, the remains of about 3,000 temples and other buildings have been found. Scientists estimate that as many as people lived in Tikal.

Located at the center of Tikal are the ruins of six tall stone temples. Each is made of huge blocks of limestone and shaped like a pyramid. The tallest is 299 feet (91 m) in height as high as a 30-story building.

On its top still sits a carved jaguar with sharp, curving claws. This temple is sometimes called the Temple of the Giant Jaguar.

The cities of the Mayas were alike in many ways. All had stone temples, which shows that religion was important to the Mayas. Like the Olmecs, the Mayas worshipped many gods. They believed in gods of the sun, the rain, and many other aspects of nature.

Near the stone temples was a palace for the city's leader. Each city had its own king and its own government. The king also controlled the smaller towns near his city. From time to time, one powerful Mayan king may have claimed control of several cities.

Each king also had a temple built in his honor. Later the temple would serve as the tomb for the king. Stelae in front of the temple gave information about the king, including the dates of his birth, his time of rule, and his death.

Stelae from the temples often described more than just the men who served as kings. Women were pictured and written about, since they, too, were important in noble families. For example, some women served as regents, or temporary rulers. They acted as leaders until young heirs to the throne were old enough to rule.

In the Mayan cities the temples and palaces were surrounded by workshops and homes. Paved courtyards provided space for markets and public gatherings. Most cities also featured ball courts like the ones at the Olmec centers.

For much of the year, Mayan farmers lived near their fields, in one-room mud huts. Between growing seasons they came to the city to build temples and palaces and to participate in ceremonies.

What were Mayan cities like?


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