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Maya Civilization

Maya culture, Maya Civilization, Spanish conquest, Yucatan Peninsula, Recent discoveries

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Maya Civilization, an ancient Native American culture that represented one of the most advanced civilizations in the western hemisphere before the arrival of Europeans. The people known as the Maya lived in the region that is now eastern and southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras. They thrived for more than 2,000 years. The Maya built massive stone pyramids, temples, and sculpture; developed a system of writing using hieroglyphs; and recorded their achievements in mathematics and astronomy. Archaeologists long believed that Maya culture reached its highest development from about ad 300 to 900, during what is known as the Classic period. Recent discoveries in northern Guatemala, however, have challenged that assumption. There, archaeologists have found highly developed cities, sophisticated art, and examples of Maya writing that date from as early as 600 years before the Classic period began.

After 900 the Maya mysteriously declined in the southern lowlands of Guatemala. They later revived in the north on the Yucatan Peninsula and continued to dominate the area until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Descendants of the Maya still form a large part of the population of the region. Although many have adopted Spanish ways, a significant number of modern Maya maintain traditional cultural practices.


For younger readers

Coulter, Laurie. Secrets in Stone: All About Maya Hieroglyphs. Little Brown, 2001. For readers in grades 3 to 6.

Fisher, Leonard Everett. Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Maya. Holiday House, 1999. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Foster, Lynn V. Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World. Facts on File, 2001. Maya civilization from the Stone Age to the present; for readers in grade 9 and up.

Meyer, Carolyn. The Mystery of the Ancient Maya. McEldery, 1995. For middle school and high school readers.

Maya Civilization

Coe, Michael D. The Maya. 6th ed. Thames & Hudson, 1998. Brief illustrated survey of the Maya civilization.

Gallenkamp, Charles. Maya: The Riddle and Rediscovery of a Lost Civilization. 3rd rev. ed. Viking, 1987. Summarizes discoveries and theories of the decline of the Maya.

Henderson, John S. The World of the Ancient Maya. 2nd ed. Cornell University Press, 1997. Chronicles achievements in science, art, architecture, social organization, and religion.

Miller, Mary, and Karl Taube. The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. Thames & Hudson, 1993. An illustrated compendium of terms and brief articles on the Maya spiritual world.

Schele, Linda, and Peter Mathews. The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs. Scribner, 1998. Describes and deciphers the glyphs used to decorate Maya architecture.


Fowler, William R., Jr., B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Associate Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University. Author of El Salvador: Antiguas Civilizaciones. Editor of Ancient Mesoamen‘ca.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

Article key phrases:

Maya culture, Maya Civilization, Spanish conquest, Yucatan Peninsula, Recent discoveries, southern Mexico, western hemisphere, Descendants, assumption, temples, Belize, people, El Salvador, sculpture, astronomy, system, mathematics, population, century, region, date, area, achievements, years

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