Mayan Culture

What is the Mayan culture

When we speak of the Mayan culture, we refer to the pre-columbian civilizationwhich developed over approximately 2600 years and that inhabited much of the region called Mesoamerica.

Among the territories occupied by the Mayans are certain territories of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and southeastern Mexico, specifically in Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Yucatan.

The Mayan culture left an important scientific and astronomical legacy that has been studied and analyzed with great care due to its interest for humanity.

Furthermore, in their history of more than three centuries, these social groups spoke dozens of dialects that gave rise to 44 modern Mayan languages.

Many people have the idea that the Mayans disappeared. However, this is not entirely true since there are still descendants, who even speak at least one Mayan language and still live in the regions where their ancestors originated.

Taking into account the results of various investigations, it can be affirmed that the Mayan civilization became an empire.

However, it is unknown if at the time of colonization they imposed their culture or if it was actually the product of their organization of independent city-states based on agriculture and trade, their specialization in Mesoamerica and perhaps beyond.

Among the main trading products were cocoa, corn, salt, jade and obsidian.

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Characteristics of the Mayan culture

The Mayan culture left a great mark on the pre-Columbian history of Latin America. It was a civilization that was characterized by its social, political and religious organization.

Another of its most recognized characteristics is its ability to build large and impressive monuments.

The same with the construction and planning of large cities, among which Nakbe, El Mirador, Tikal, Quiriguá, Palenque, Cobán, Comalcalco, Ceibal, among others, can be named.

Currently some of these cities have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

It is necessary to highlight that the most daring, imposing and impressive monuments of this civilization are the pyramids that they built in their religious centers, close to the palaces of their rulers and where the nobles resided.

The most important, so far discovered, is that of Cancuen, in the south of Petén, Guatemala, in which several structures decorated with mural paintings and stucco ornaments can be seen.

Mayan social organization

The Mayan social organization was pyramidal, at the top was the Halach Uinicwho was the governor and was in charge of appointing the chiefs of each population.

There were also the nacom who were the military leaders and, the aha kan who were considered maximum or high Mayan priests.

Then came the ruling class, represented by officials, other priests and Mayan warriors who could be pumas, jaguars or coyotes, as well as the rich merchants who expanded trade and exchange of goods.

Next came the lower class made up of artisans and peasants. These social groups paid more taxes than the warrior or priestly elites.

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Lastly, the slaves were located, considered prisoners of war, who were forced to work in the great works and, in addition, they were the people offered in the sacrifices to the Mayan gods.

Mayan cultural manifestations

Below are the most important and studied manifestations and contributions made by the Mayan culture.

Mayan astronomy and calendar

The Mayans managed to create a much more precise calendar than those used in Europe at the time, which allowed them to more accurately determine the seasons of the year and atmospheric phenomena, which helped improve work in agriculture.

They created two calendars:



Or Zolkin O Haab
It divided the year into 260 days, 13 months of 20 days each. It served to determine the movement of translation of the sun. It divided into 365 days but with 18 months.
It served to commemorate important Mayan religious dates and festivals. It was used for the agricultural part, for sowing and harvesting.

See also: Mayan calendar.


The Mayans used a vigesimal numbering system, each point was a unit in their representations, they made use of zero for the administration of their cities, which helped manage large numerical quantities of food and objects.


The Mayans made use of a hieroglyphic writing system in which they mixed figures and symbols, the former representing ideas, and the latter referring to sounds that formed the Mayan codices.

These codices were the books that the Mayans wrote before colonization. They were made of animal skins as well as tree bark, which became extinct thanks to the Spanish colonization and the desire to put an end to the idolatries of the new world.

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See also: Culture and Cosmogony.