1)Chichén Itza
8)Piedras Negras
|=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=|

The Ancient Maya

|=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=| |=|






Geographical Location

The Maya lived in the area in Central America which now consists of Yucatan, Guatemala, Belize and southern Mexico (the Chiapas and Tabasco provinces). This whole area lies south of the tropic of Cancer, and north of the equator, and is about 900 kilometers from north to south and 550 kilometers in the east-west direction.

Major Mayan Archeological Sites

1. Chichén Itza in Mexico's Yucatán has the famous huge pyramid of the sun. It became the capital of the Yucatán Maya after the end of the Classic period. They organized a trading empire (1000-1521) that stretched from the Gulf Coast to Honduras.

2. Palenque stands at the foothills of the Chiapas highlands. It was built as a portal to the underworld in the 8th century, where Maya kings might defeat the Lord Death and return in dreams and visions. In the observatory tower at the center of Palenque palace, small portals were aligned to enable the sighting of Venus throughout the year at its first appearance on the horizon. This was the signal to begin war.

3. Yaxchilán, 4. Bonampak, 9. Tikal, 10. Uaxactun and 11. Copan were lowland or valley cities, abandoned for unknown reasons with the fall of classic Mayan civilization, around 1,000 A.D. These cities were overgrown with rain forest jungle. Lavish murals were found at Bonampak. Southeast of Bonampak is the Lacandon jungle, misnamed by the Spaniards after the name of a lake in it, where, on an island, the last unconquered Maya (Chol and Tzeltal) held out, refusing surrender and refusing Christianity. The Lacandon jungle area is the site of Mayan controversy today with the Mexican government, it remains the last rain forest in Mexico, but is being logged at a rapid rate.

12. Cuello is the oldest excavated Mayan settlement, dating from 2500 B.C. Belize sponsored the summer excavation of a early Mayan rock cave site near an area close to Cuello, threatened with development. Journals of dig participants are on-line.

13. Tulúm was a seacoast fortress and port city for the vast trading empire the Maya established, perhaps allied with the Olmec civilization to the north. At Tulúm, a small temple arch just frames the rising sun at Winter solstice, when the viewer is seated in a stone throne built into the wall surrounding Tulúm. In the Mimi II curriculum, (link at end of page) Tulúm is where the smugglers ship out artifacts, and where C.J. meets archaeologist Victor Segovia and learns about Mayan astronomy.

14. Coba--This is a Yucatan peninsula jungle-buried city, but local Mayans always knew of it. It is the jumping-off point in the Mimi II curriculum (link at end fo page) for discovery of the undiscovered Site U which is being looted. Coba in reality is famed for a missing king, Chac Balam (Red Jaguar) who disappeared after age 30, with no stone records marking his death--very unusual for a Mayan ruler. Probably mens he was captured by enemies.

11. Copán was one of the largest Mayan cities, and is located furthest south in the old civilization, in Honduras. At Copán is the best-preserved of the ancient sacred ball courts, and a temple with the longest stone inscription in the western hemisphere--some of the most extensive and best material giving promise of decoding the hieroglyphic language. In Mimi II, (link at end of page) one of the sidebar scientific expeditions visits David Stuart, the youth who began translating Maya glyphics at age 9, at Copán.

Among the strongest centers of Mayan cultural survival now are villages in the highland Mexican state of Chiapas, in the mountainous area just west of sites 2, 5 and 6 on the map. Mayans form population majorities in parts of Guatemala and Honduras, whose governments--with U.S. backing and CIA connivance- -have treated them very harshly. Mayan political organization is hampered by the fact that the people speak more than 11 dialects which are mutually unintelligable--as different as French and Italian languages.
Michelle Ayache