Humanities › History & Culture The Ancient Maya Share Flipboard Email Print Jaguar Temple at Tikal, Guatemala. Captain DJ History & Culture Latin American History Central American History History Before Columbus Colonialism and Imperialism Caribbean History South American History Mexican History American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated January 27, 2019 The Maya lived in subtropical Mesomerica in parts of the countries that are now Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, and the Yucatan peninsula area of Mexico. Major sites of the Maya are located at: PalenqueCopanBonampakTikalChichén ItzáYakchilanPiedras NegrasCalakmul. When Were the Ancient Maya? The recognizable culture of the Maya developed between 2500 B.C. and A.D. 250. The peak period of Maya civilization was in the Classic period, which began in A.D. 250. The Maya lasted for about another 700 years before suddenly disappearing as a major force; however, the Maya did not die out then and haven't to this day. What We Mean by the Ancient Maya The ancient Maya were united by a shared religious system and language, although there are actually many Mayan languages. While the political system was also shared among the Maya, each chiefdom had its own ruler. Battles between cities and protective alliances were frequent. Sacrifice and Ball Games Human sacrifice is a part of many cultures, including the Maya, and is usually associated with religion in that people are sacrificed to the gods. The Maya creation myth involved a sacrifice made by the gods that had to be re-enacted by humans from time to time. One of the occasions of human sacrifice was the ball game. It is not known how often sacrifice of the loser ended the game, but the game itself was often deadly. The Architecture of the Maya The Maya built pyramids, like the people of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Maya pyramids were usually 9-step pyramids with flat tops on which were perched temples to the gods accessible by stairs. The steps corresponded with the 9 layers of the Underworld. Maya created corbeled arches. Their communities had sweat baths, a ball game area, and a central ceremonial area that may have also served as a market in the cities of the Maya. The Maya at the city of Uxmal used concrete in their buildings. Commoners had homes made of thatch and either adobe or sticks. Some residents had fruit trees. Canals afforded an opportunity for mollusks and fish. The Language of the Maya The Maya spoke various Maya family languages some of which were phonetically transcribed via hieroglyphs. The Maya painted their words on bark paper that has disintegrated but also wrote on more enduring substances [see epigraphy]. Two dialects dominate the inscriptions and are presumed to be the more prestigious forms of the Maya language. One is from the southern area of the Maya and the other from the Yucatan peninsula. With the advent of the Spanish, the prestige language became Spanish.