The Drought Theory of the Maya Collapse

Filed under: Mayan Civilisation - 25 Apr 2013  | Share on :

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The Maya Collapse refers to the decline of the Mayan Classic Period and abandonment of the Classic Period Maya cities between the 8th and 9th centuries. The classic Maya collapse is one of the biggest mysteries in archeology. To this day, nobody knows where the Maya people came from before they arrived in the Yucatan Peninsula, and nobody knows why they left or where they went when most Mayans abandoned their cities and disappeared from the peninsula.

There are several theories that try to explain the Maya Collapse, but there is no universally accepted theory regarding it. However, a new study shows that the Maya culture collapsed a thousand years ago because it failed to cope with climate change, making the drought theory more and more accurate.


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The drought theory says that mega-droughts hit the Yucatan Peninsula and Peten Basim areas with particular ferocity for several reasons, one of these reasons being thin tropical soils, which decline in fertility and become unworkable when deprived of forest cover. The colonial Spanish officials accurately documented cycles of drought, famine, disease, and war, providing a reliable historical record of the basic drought pattern in the Maya region.

The Central American people had developed a sophisticated society, accurate calendars, and complex architecture which included pyramids. They thrived during rainy periods but a prolonged drought somewhere between AD 800 and 1100 is said to have brought about its collapse. Scientists came to this conclusion after re-analyzing a wooden beam from a Guatemala temple, originally radiocarbon-tested in 1960.

For a long time, experts struggled to match dates from the Mayan Long Court with the modern European calendar. The Long Count system comprised 20-day cycles made up of k’in, which formed 360-day cycles known as turns. Another unit, b’ak’tun, represented a cycle of 400 years – and it was the ending of one of these that led to the belief that the world would end on December 21, 2012.


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Now, archaeologist Douglas Kennett from Pennsylvania State University has applied modern carbon dating methods to a lintel carved with historical records and found at Tikal, which was a major city during the prosperity times of the Maya empire. His purpose was to confirm the accuracy of the dating: 50 years ago, other researchers at the university reckoned the beam had been carved between Ad 695 and 712.

When looking at how climate affects the rise and fall of the Maya, I began to question how accurately the two calendars correlated using those methods”, said the researcher. As well as using carbon isotopes to establish its age, Kennett and his team locked at the three rings in the wood. The date they concluded was around AD 658-696, which backed up the original correlation estimates.

These events and those recorded at cities throughout the Maya lowlands can now be harmonized with greater assurance to other environmental, climatic and archaeological datasets”, the report says.


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Last year, scientists from Pennsylvania State University and Zurich, with expert input from Durham University, conducted a project in which precisely-dated rainfall records were made from deposits in local caves. The results were compared to a so-called “war index” which mentioned the dates of hostile events which Mayans recorded on stone monuments.

The findings, published in the journal Science, described how Maya rulers commissioned monuments to record events and the research team found the frequency of texts carved in stone indicating rivalry, war and alliances increased significantly between AD 660 and 900, during the drying trend.

It is not just climate drying and drought that is important, but the preceeding conditions that helped stimulate societal complexity and population expansion”, said Professor Kennett at the time. “This set the stage for societal stress and the fragmentation of political institutions later in time as conditions became drier”, he added.


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The rise and fall of Mayan civilization is an example of a sophisticated civilization failing to adapt successfully to climate change. Periods of high rainfall increased the productivity of Maya agricultural systems and led to a population boom and resource overexploitation. The progressively drier climate then led to political destabilization and warfare as resources were depleted. After years of hardship, a nearly century-long drought from 1020 sealed the fate of the Classic Maya.”, concluded the professor.

Climatic changes are, with increasing frequency, found to be major drivers in the rise and fall of civilizations worldwide. The drought theory suggests that rapid climate change in the form of severe drought brought about the Classic Maya collapse.

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The Mayan Calendar

Filed under: Life Of The Mayas,Mayan Civilisation - 18 Mar 2013  | Share on :

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The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, famous for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. The Mayans are also noted for the renowned Mayan calendar. However, on contrary to people’s beliefs, the Maya didn’t invent the calendar, which was used by many civilizations in pre-Columbian Central America from around 2000 BC to the 16th century.


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The Mayan civilization developed the calendar further and their subsequent extensions and refinements of it were the most sophisticated. In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya had measured the length of the solar year to a high degree of accuracy, far more accurately than that used in Europe as the basis of the Gregorian calendar. The calendars the Mayans used were crude, being based on a year length of exactly 365 days, which means that the calendar falls out of step with the seasons by one day every four years.

The Mayan calendar consists of three separate corresponding calendars:

  • The Long Count
  • The Tzolkin (divine calendar)
  • The Haab (civil calendar)

Time is cyclical in the calendars and a set number of days must pass before a new cycle can begin. The three calendars are used simultaneously. The Tzolkin and the Haab identify and name the days, but not the years. The Long Count date comes first, then the Tzolkin date, and the Haab date last.

Here is an example. A typical Mayan date would read: 13.0.0.0.0 4 Ahau 8 Kumku, where 13.0.0.0.0 is the Long Count date, 4 Ahau is the Tzolkin date, and 8 Kumku is the Haab date.

The Haab is a 365-day solar calendar divided into 18 months of 20 days each and one month which is only 5 days long. The calendar has an outer ring of Mayan glyphs representing each of the 19 months. Each day is represented by a number in the month followed by the name of the month. Each glyph represents a personality associated with the month. The Haab is somewhat inaccurate, as it is exactly 365 days long. An actual tropical or solar year is 365.2422 days long. In today’s Gregorian calendar, this discrepancy is adjusted by making almost every fourth year a leap year by adding an extra day on the 29th of February.


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The Tzolkin, also known as the divine calendar or the Sacred Round, means “the distribution of the days”. It is a 260-day calendar, with 20 periods of 13 days used to determine the time of religious and ceremonial events. Each day is numbered from 1 to 13, and then repeated. The day is also given a name (glyph) from a sequence of 20 day names. The calendar repeats itself after each cycle.


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The Long Count is an astronomical calendar which was used to track longer periods of time, what the Mayans called “the universal cycle”. Each such cycle is calculated to be 2,880,000 days (about 7885 solar years). The Mayans believed that the universe is destroyed and then recreated at the start of each universal cycle. This belief inspired a myriad of prophecies regarding the end of the world.


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Setting the date

A date in the Maya calendar is specified by its position in both the Tzolkin and the Haab calendars which aligns the Sacred Round with the Vague Year creating the joint cycle called the Calendar Round, represented by two wheels rotating in different directions. The Calendar round cycle takes approximately 52 years to complete.

The smallest wheel consists of 260 teeth with each one having the name of the days of the Tzolkin. The larger wheel consists of 365 teeth and has the name of each of the positions of the Haab year. As both wheels rotate, the name of the Tzolkin day corresponds to each Haab position.

The date is identified by counting the number of days from the “creation date”. A typical long count date has the following format: Baktun.Katun.Tun.Uinal.Kin.

  • Kin = 1 Day.
  • Uinal = 20 kin = 20 days.
  • Tun = 18 uinal = 360 days.
  • Katun = 20 tun = 360 uinal = 7,200 days.
  • Baktun = 20 katun = 400 tun = 7,200 uinal = 144,000 days.

The kin, tun and katun are numbered from zero to 19; the uinal are numbered from zero to 17; and the baktun are numbered from one to 13. The Long Count has a cycle of 13 baktuns, which will be completed 1.872.000 days (13 baktuns) after 0.0.0.0.0. This period equals 5125.36 years and is referred to as the “Great Cycle” of the Long Count.
The Mayan calendar moves in cycles with the last cycle ending in December 2012. The last day of the Mayan calendar corresponded with the Winter Solstice (December 21st), which has played a significant role in various cultures worldwide. This is also what got many people to think that the world would end on December 21st, 2012.


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The Mayan calendar completes its current “Great Cycle” of the Long Count on the 13th baktun, on 13.0.0.0.0. Using the most common conversion to our modern calendar the end of the “Great Cycle” corresponds to 11:11 Universal Time (UTC), December 21, 2012, hence the myriad of doomsday prophecies surrounding this date.

However, December 21st, 2012 is long gone and the world did not end. Later findings suggested that the Mayans did not chase death, but were rather seeking rebirth.

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The Maya Empire

Filed under: Mayan Civilisation - 06 Nov 2012  | Share on :

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The Maya Empire is known to have been located in the tropical lowlands of what we know today as Guatemala. This civilization reached its highest level of development in the sixth century A.D.. The Maya are famous for their excellent agriculture, as well as for their unique writing, mathematics and architecture. The Mayans are also famous for their symbolic artwork and calendar.

The Maya civilization is one of the most impressive civilizations that has ever existed on the face of Earth. Unlike numerous other civilizations, the Maya were located in a single geographical block. This civilization covered the entire Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, parts of Mexico, parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The amazing concentration of the Mayans shows that this civilization has never been affected by invasions.


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According to historians, the earliest Maya settlements date back to the year 1800 B.C. This civilization was completely based on agriculture. Only in the year 300 B.C., the Mayans began expanding their presence in the lowland regions, establishing quite impressive farms.

During the Middle Preclassic Period, the Mayans knew an important rise. This is the moment when in addition to agriculture, the Maya civilization began building impressive pyramids. Palaces, temples and pyramids were built all around the area in which Mayans were located. They became specific to the Maya culture and religion. Mayans were deeply religious, so they worshiped numerous gods related to nature. Gods of the sun, the moon or the rain were worshiped by the Mayans.


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One of the most curious facts about the Mayans is how they managed to built such a great civilization in a tropical rainforest area. The natural environment was much exploited by this civilization. However, despite the wealth, the amazing structure and the unique knowledge that the Mayans possessed, the civilization declined unexpectedly. From the 8th to the 9th century something happened to the Mayans. When caused their decline and dissolution is not known today. Still, even though the real reason remains a mystery, numerous theories have been developed on what determined the decline of this spectacular civilization.

So, some claim that the Mayans used so much the environment in which they lived that they actually exhausted all its resources. Others say that the complex system of relationships, wealth and religion the Mayans built is the one that brought the collapse. Overpopulation may also be a reason that lead to the dissolution of the Mayan Empire.


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Despite their mysterious collapse, the Mayan left quite an impressive civilization behind. Their legacy is incomparable with other civilizations, so there is no wonder after all that the Mayan are believed to be one of the greatest civilizations of all time.

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Interesting Facts About The Mayans

Filed under: Mayan Civilisation - 20 Sep 2012  | Share on :

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The Maya is a pre-Columbian American civilization. This fascinating civilization has actually developed its own written language, architecture, mathematical and astronomical system. The history of the Mayans is interesting and very complex. Below you can find some amazing facts about this civilization to understand more on how they lived and who they were.

1. It is believed that millions of Mayans populated South America before Spanish exploiters arrived here. Each large city here had more than 100,000 inhabitants.

2. Mayans had over 30 closely related languages and dialects.

3. The locations in which Maya people lived include eastern and southern Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and western Honduras.


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4. This impressive civilization existed for more than 2,000 years, during which Mayan built massive stone pyramids, temples and sculptures.

5. They developed their own writing system, using hieroglyphs.

6. Mayan had a functional agricultural system, but also independent city-states.

7. One of the most popular drinks among Maya people is the blache. The beverage is made from fermented honey mixed with the bark of the blache tree.

8. The Mayan art work is still considered to be one of the most sophisticated and appreciated forms of art in history. However, their best art work is believed to come in the form of architecture. Mayan architecture is absolutely spectacular.


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9. Mayans used sweat baths to purify their body. These baths were a type of saunas, but they were very important in common belief.

10. Mayans named their children based on the day in which they were born. Each day of the Mayan Calendar had a specific name for both boys and girls, which parents always used.

11. The Mayan calendar had different cycles. The cycle we are currently in is predicted to end in earthquakes. Other cycles ended in fire or flood. The Mayan calendar is so advanced because the civilization had a complex understanding of astronomy.


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12. No one knowns how and why the Mayan culture vanished, as this was a very advanced civilization.

13. Mayan people had an interesting form of sacrifice. They paint the victim blue and then remove its heart, while still beating. A priest was to perform this ritual.

14. Health and medicine were a complex blend of mind, body, science, ritual and religion for Mayans.

15. Mayans practiced human sacrifice for religious and medical reasons.

16. It is a well known fact that Mayans commonly used hallucinogenic drugs, both in daily life and during religious rituals.

17. The last Maya state existed until 1697. Itza is nowadays a popular archaeological site, with numerous impressive monuments.


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18. Both men and women tattooed their bodies with complex designs.

19. Maya people recognized their gods, who controlled everyday. They performed numerous rituals to talk to their deities.

20. Mayan temples were resting places for gods.

One of the most important facts you should know about Mayan people is that they have never disappeared. Descendants of the Maya still live in the Yucatan region today. However, why this culture vanished is a question that has no answer, at least until now.

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Mayan Civilisation in Movies

Filed under: Uncategorized - 13 Sep 2012  | Share on :

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History – there is a lot of it. Movies have been delving into every little corner and cranny of humanity’s past of awesome stories, unforgettable locations and memorable characters. From the dawn of Man as seen in flicks like Quest for Fire and the 10.000 BC to less hairy, more civilised empires like Caesar’s Rome and Ghengis Khan’s Mongolia, the human race has been attempting with unfeasible hubris to leave the mark on the scroll of history for millennia.

The culture of the pre-Columbian Maya is a fascinating topic. The ancient Central American civilisation flourished from about 200 and 900 BC, built enormous cities, and was famous for sophisticated mathematical and astrological systems, especially their calendar. Unfortunately, none of the abovementioned features were included into Mel Gibson’s movie, which seems satisfied to use the Maya as an excuse to follow up biblical bloody movie The Passion of the Christ, with an even more elaborately staged blood bath.

Many civilisations have been put on the big silverscreen. Nevertheless, one of the most controversial ancient civilisation movie is Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.

The ancient Mayan civilisations don’t get nearly enough play. Dominating southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, the Mayans are the oldest civilisation to have a recorded language, and constructed awesome large-scale monuments and cities, replete with amazing observatories and temples.


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In Mel Gibson’s all Mayan hist epic Apocalypto, we learn the story of young warrior Jaguar Paw as he flees from a raiding tribe or rival warriors. Taking place in the post-Classic period of the Mayan Empire, when the civilisation was in decline, Jaguar Paw’s village is attacked by raiders led by Zero Wolf, who enslave the villagers and take them back to the city, where they are to be sacrificed to the sun god Kukulkan.

Naturally, the hero of the movie escapes and leads his pursuers on a chase through ancient Maya, rife with famine, corruption and blood, before both the hunter and the hunted are stopped in their tracks by the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores, who would change Central American history forever.

Opinions on the movie are both pro and con. Some people say that it is a masterpiece, others that it is a cruel and unrealistic depiction of the Maya civilisation. In the end, none of can really know hoe they really were.

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Maya Civilisation Leaves a Great Cultural Legacy Behind

Filed under: Mayan Civilisation - 17 Jul 2012  | Share on :

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Brief History of the Mayan Civilisation


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The Maya civilisation is perhaps one of the most interesting ones, alongside the Inca, Egyptian, Chinese and Mesopotamian. Unlike the other scattered indigenous populations of Mesoamerica, the Maya were centred in one geographical block covering all of the Yucatan Peninsula and modern day Guatemala, Belize, and parts of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas.

One of the many intriguing things about the Maya was their ability to build a great civilisation, not in plain sight, but in a tropical rainforest. These ancient people had a flourishing civilisation in dry climates as well, where the centralised management of water resources formed the basis of society.

The Mayas had a mysterious decline between the eights through the end of the ninth century. Researchers have come up with three theories:

  • The Mayas might have exhausted the environment around them to the point it could no longer sustain a very large population.
  • Another theory claims that population disappeared due to large warfare. As the stature of the holy lords diminished, their complex system of traditions dissolved into chaos.
  • A catastrophic event, such as environment change consisting in a long period of drought may have been the contributing factor to the total wipe out of the Mayas.

Maya Architecture and Urban Design

Maya architecture spans many thousands of years. Yet, the most easily recognisable landmarks are the stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond. As the Maya cities spread all throughout the varied geography or Mesoamerica, site planning appears to have been minimal. Since they lives in rainforests, their architecture tended to integrate a great degree of natural features. Hence, their cities were built somewhat dictated by the topography of each independent location.


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Classic era Maya urban design could easily be described as the division of space by great monuments and causeways. Open public plazas were the gathering places for people and the focus of the urban design. At the heart of the Mayan city was the plaza, surrounded by the most important governmental and religious buildings, such as the royal acropolis, great pyramid temples and occasionally ball-courts.


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Maya Astronomy

Just like Egyptians were astronomers, the Mayas are also known for being very knowledgeable in the field. They seem to be the only pre-telescopic civilisation to demonstrate knowledge of the Orion Nebula as being fuzzy. Their traditional hearths include in their middle a smudge of glowing fire that corresponds with the Orion nebula. They Mayas have left behind the Dresden Codex. This work contains the highest concentration of astronomical phenomena observations and calculations of any of the surviving texts. Scientists who have deciphered the content, have came to the conclusion that for the Mayas, the most important star was Venus.


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Maya Religion

Like the Aztec and Inca who came to power later, the Maya believed in a cyclical nature of time. The rituals and ceremonies were closely associated with the celestial and terrestrial cycles which they observed. According to the heavens, they performed certain religious ceremonies or human sacrifices. Maya gods had affinities that caused them to merge with one another in ways that seem unbounded. The Maya religion had a wide array of supernatural gods, who combined both human and animal features, as shown in the picture below.


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Mayas are a very interesting people who has still got a lot of amazing things to offer. Although most of the vestiges have become overgrown by the jungle, becoming dense enough to hide structures just a few metres away. Researchers and historians have resorted to technology, more specifically satellite images, to discover these lost worlds.

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The Collapse Of Mayas And Of Their Civilization

Filed under: Life Of The Mayas - 27 May 2012  | Share on :

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The Mayas were a Mesoamerican civilization known for their written language, for their culture and for their mathematical skills. Maya people established their settlements in approximately 2000 BC. That year, the Pre-Classic Maya period begun and lasted until AD 250. The Classic period of Maya lasted from 250 until 900 and in 900 began the Post-Classic period which lasted until the arrival of the Spanish on their lands. The people did not disappear, but they were colonized once the Spanish colonized the Americas. The collapse of this civilization refers actually to the Classic Maya collapse. This term describes the decline of the Classic period and the time in which the people abandoned the Classic cities between 800 and 900. This phenomenon is one of the most intriguing mysteries in history, because no one is capable to understand why a civilization so sophisticated abandoned its lands and its homes and gave up building new constructions. Although this period between 800 and 900 is regarded as the Classic Maya collapse, the people continued their lives.

Apparently, the people abandoned their lands because of factors as climate change, deforestation and political problems. Some historians even suggest that a foreign invasion took place on the Maya territory, forcing people to leave their homes. Such an invasion could be the one that destroyed the Classic Maya, although all the possible explanations are based on suppositions. The Toltec people could be the one to blame, but if they would have attacked the Maya, why is not there any evidence of military defeat? According to some, the population also endured revolts of the peasants because of epidemics and lack of food, as the environment could not provide for so many people anymore.

Scientists, on the other hand, share the opinion that the Mayas collapse was the result of drought. It is supposed that this was a process of about 200 years, as the people used to transform the forest into cropland and reduced the possibility of rainfall. Without having access to water, the civilization needed to find another place and abandoned its lands. The problems is that the mystery will not be solved very soon, as there is not certain proof of what exactly happen to the Maya civilization. One things is for sure, the Classical period collapsed, but the people continued to live among others and they still have descendants nowadays.

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The Mayas and Their Art

Filed under: Uncategorized - 29 Nov 2011  | Share on :

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So many things can be said about the Mayas and numerous myths have been created around them throughout the years. They were a Mesoamerican civilization, that exceeded others in language and arts. Their first cities were founded in the Pre-Classic period and developed until the Spanish invasion, which was not entirely destructive, but actually blended in the formation. The Mayas still have descendants today that pride themselves into keeping traditions alive and being part of a heritage so great that has left the world astonished. People are attracted to this culture for so many reasons, because of all the things they have created and left behind, all the myths about their way of life look and sound like a fairytale, but the remains are a testament of the true legacy of the Mayas inhabiting and creating in American areas.

The Mayas made art a true form of expression, as in those times most artistic developments where limited by the rough materials and tools, as other civilizations did not manage to create such accurate art objects. In plus, all the artifacts created by the Mayas have stand the test of time and are now featured in many collections and museums all over the world. The designs are very original and, although made in stucco and other rocks or burned muds, they have survived for many centuries. The collections include reliefs, funerary pottery items and murals, which are all delightful to admire, as the accurate forms worked on them are very impressive. People are taken aback by the beauty and the perfection of shapes in the Mayas art – human bodies are perfectly carved in stone, for example. Other shapes are amazing as well, no matter if they are big or small, they stand to show a delicate and attentive work, made by dedicated Mayas with a steady hand and a lot of patience.

The entire Mayas community was a working one, but they always found time to create art. What is now left is a testament to their heritage, values and beliefs. No matter if they were potters or miners in caves looking for stones, the Mayas created art in all possible shapes and forms, carving and leaving their marks in wood, stone, burned mud, natural fibers and precious stones. Their dedication to creation and beauty is acclaimed as singular, because the Mayas left a trace of their civilization comparable to no other.

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