Hunter-Gatherer Societies / The Maya Civilization

Background Knowledge: Early humans were hunter-gatherers. They lived by hunting small animals and gathering plants.  This will help you create your civilization using the same tools and methods of living as they did.

How did Early Hunter-Gatheres live?
Unfortunately, Archaeologists do not know a lot about hunter-gatherer societies.  Most of them lived for a short time and died out.

The Development of tools
About 2.5 million years ago, early humans developed a useful new skill.  The learned how to make tools out of stone.  This innovationor new way of doing things, was so important that archaeologists call the period the Paleolithic Era, or the Old Stone Age.   (Yabbadabbado!!)

At first, the tools made by early humans were simple.  Tool makers split stones to make cutting tools for chopping down small trees, cutting meat, or scraping the flesh off an animal skin.  Over time, Stone Age toolmakers became more skillful, making thinner and sharper stone blades.  Some blades were used to make spears and arrows.  Toolmakers began using bones and antlers, and some added decoration and color to their work.

The Maya Civilization
The Maya Civilization arose in the tropical rain forests of Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica is the region is the region of the southern part of present-day Mexico and nothern Central America.  This civilization reached its height between A.D. 250 and A.D. 900.  The geographic setting of the Maya civilization was not like that of the river valley civilization like the one in ancient Egypt.  River Valley civilizations arrose on the fertile soil beside large rivers.  The Maya had no such rivers.  They built their civilization on thin soil in dense rain forests.   More than 2,000 years ago, Mesoamerica farmers learned how to clear patches of rain forest to raise food.  because rain washed away the thin forest soil, farmers built raised fields for planning.  They also dug canals to bring water to their fields in the dry season.  Their main crop was maize, or corn. In addition to corn , they grew beans, squash, and other foods.  They also domesticated animals such as dogs and turkeys.

Features of the Maya Civilization
Maya civilizations shared many of the features of other civilizations.  However, the Maya did not form a united group under a single government.  Instead, Maya civilization was made up of different groups living in separate, independent cities.

Maya Cities
People in the cities depended on the food supplied by Maya farmers.  At the center of a Maya city were splendid stone buildings, wide plazas, and courts for playing ball games.  Some Maya cities were home to as many as 100,000 people.  Offcials lived in the city’s stone buildings, but farmers and workers lived in simple wooden houses.  Ball games drew large crowds into a city.  THe object of the game was to keep a hard rubber ball in the air without touching it with hands or feet.  Although players wore protective pads on their arms, knees, and hips injuries were common.

Maya  Government
Each Maya city had its own well-organized government.  At the highest level of government was ruler.  The position of ruler was handed down from father to son within a family.  Beneath the ruler were various officials of different ranks, or levels.  High-ranking officials advised the ruler.  Low-ranking officials had jobs such as collecting taxes.  The Maya believed that their rulers had godlike powers.  A ruler was expected to use these powers to help his people.  In one ceremony, the ruler offered his blood to the gods.  In return, he asked the gods to provide sunshine and rain for the crops.

Maya Economy
Maya farmers raised enough food to support people in other jobs.  In addition to government officials, the Maya had many skilled craftsworkers and artists.  Traders traveled from city to city with such good as animal skins and jade, a beautiful green stone.  They also traded dried fish, honey, and cacao, or ocoa beans.  Cacao, which was used to make chocolate drink, was so valuable that the Maya sometimes used cocoa beans as a form of money.

Maya Religion
THe Maya worshiped many gods.  Most of their gods represented natural fores, such as the sun, the moon, and rain.  REligion was part of daily life.  People might make offerings or say prayers to ask for health or good crops.  During the year, religious events were help to please the gods.  These activities usually took place in a temple located in teh center of the city.  The city’s ruler was the most important religious offical.  many priests assisted him.  The priests were in charge of marking time.  in other words, it was their job to know the exact day when festials and ceremonies honoring each othe gods should take place.

Maya Social Structure
At its height, the Maya civlization was divided into several social classes.  The top class was made up of the ruler, high-ranking officials, and priests.  These people help importnt positions in the government and in business.  Lower-ranking officials, traders, and skilled workers formed the middle class.  Farmers stood at the bottom of this social structure.  Warfare was part of Maya life.  Powerful rulers often raised large armies and fought other cities.  One goal of warfare was to take prisoners.  Farmers and workers who were caputred in battle became slaves, or captive workers.  High-ranking prisoners were sacrificed to the gods.

System of writing
The Maya invented one of the most advanced wirting systems in the ancient world.  The Maya carved their writing on giant stone blocks.  They recorded information about rulers, ceremonies, and wars.  They created books that described their history, religion and culture.  These books also included information about the stars and planets.  The Maya used a writing system based on hieroglyphs.  A hieroglyph that represents a word or an idea is like one of the numerals that we use to represent a number.  Anyone who knows the numeral 5, for example, understands what 5 means.  This is true whether a person speaks English, Russian, or Japanese.

Discoveries in Science
Maya priests made brilliant discoveries in astronomy – The study of the stars and planets.  The plotted the movements of the sun, the moon, and the planet Venus.  They also made great advances in mathematics.  They figured out the concept of zero long before it was known in most of the rest of the world.  With their knowlede of mathematics and astronomy, the Maya could make very accurate calendars.  Like other people in Mesoamerica, the Maya used several calendars with different lengths of time.  THey used a 365-day calendar based on the solar year.  A solar year is the time it takes Easth to orbit the sun.  The Maya also used a 260 day calendar, mainly for religious purposes.  Their longest calendar, caled the Long Count covered a period of about 5, 128 years.

Art and Architecture
The Maya were highly skille in many arts.  They crafted fine pottery, bone carvings, and jewlery from gold and jade.  They also painted beautiful scenees on the walls of palaces and temples.  These paintings show high rankings Mayas dressed in fine clothing.  many wear large head covering with the feathers of tropical birds.  The Maya developed their own style of architecture, or building desgin.  They constructed buildings from large blocks of stone, which were often carved with complex designs.  Many buildings were topped with a roof comb, or a stone carving that made the building look taller and mroe impressive.  The most important temples were built on the tops of the great pyramid.  The ruins of such Maya cities as Tikal, Corpan and Palenque are among the wonders of the ancient world.

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