Mayan History
Language Resources

The Origins

The Mayans are a Mesoamerican civilization that originated many years before the Aztecs. They first appeared around 2000 B.C. in what is known as the Preclassic period. The first traces of the civilization were discovered when pottery and clay figurines emerged. Much of the information of the Mayans still remains a mystery, as the Spanish burnt records of their practices after their takeover of Mexico.

The Classic period in Mayan history began around 250 A.D. and lasted until around 900 A.D. There was significant development in their architecture and agriculture, as can be evidenced in the southern regions of the empire. For thee same reasons already mentioned, there is a lack of information about this period in the northern half of it. We know, however, that during this time popular structures were built, such as the stepped pyramids and stelae, which are stone slabs carved with certain designs to remember the dead. This was also a period in which trade with neighboring cities became prevalent.

The following chain of events is still being debated, but the Mayan cities in the south show signs of decline during the 8-9th century A.D., ultimately leading to the abdication of the area. There have been many theories for this, ranging from foreign invasions to excessive drought.

Creation of The Pyramids

During the 10-16th century there were signs of development in the northern section of their empire, though there was a palpable influence from external societies. It was around this time that important structures were built, such as the stepped pyramids, which are in great condition to this day. One of the civilizations that survived the end of the Classic period was the Itza Maya, who rebuilt their settlements to make their cities resemble their capital, Tayasal. It was these actions that provided some of the best examples of historiography in the area of the Kiche Kingdom of Q´umarkaj.

It was during this time that the Spanish attempted to settle in Mayan territory, which led to the long process of appropriation, which took around 170 years in all. One of the interesting aspects of the Mayans during their battle against the Spanish is that they had no dependence on one particular structure as their center. This relative autonomy of each separate state enabled them instead to keep up the firepower, despite their losses.