The Maya civilization is one of the most famous and mysterious civilizations our world has known. Their history started around 2000 BC and ended not so long ago in 16th century after the Spanish Empire conquered and colonised Mesoamerica. Still, most of the Mayan cities remain intact, including some more ancient finds, due to the climate that quickly covered everything in thick jungle. That’s why historians and archaeologists are making breathtaking discoveries until this very day. Here are 10 mind-boggling facts about the Maya people no one talks about.
The Maya had one of the most profound writing systems not only in Mesoamerica, but in the world as well. It was logosyllabic, which means they could actually write down the words the way they were pronounced. Their writing system consists of more than 800 hieroglyphs, some of which still haven’t been deciphered.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that with such an elaborate writing system the Maya wrote actual books about their history, religion, and culture. To the utmost despair of modern historians, only three Mayan codices survived until today. Some of the books didn’t survive the humid climate, but most of them were destroyed by Catholic priests and colonisers from Spain, who burned them in bulk.
The Maya people probably weren’t the first to cultivate and drink cocoa (historians point to the more ancient Olmec civilization), but they certainly were the ones who popularized cocoa. It was a huge part of their everyday lives, sacred ceremonies, and religious events. Drinking cocoa was an art form and special ceramic vessels were created for cocoa-drinking ceremonies. The amount of cocoa beans was also a sign of status, which means Mayan kings and merchants had more cocoa than all other people. It was even used as currency!
It may be hard to believe, but the Maya people actually came from Siberia! Well, that happened thousands of years ago, of course, but you can still see the resemblance in the facial features of the Siberian people and the Mayans. It all happened during the last ice age when ancient people migrated from Asia to the American continent. People living in Chukotka, Siberia, are still using the same numeral system the Mayans used!
You must remember the hype around 2012 being the last year for humanity according to the Mayan calendar. Well, nothing happened, of course, and there’s a reason for that. The Mayan calendar, called the Long Count calendar, didn’t predict the end of the world – it just stated it was an end of an era, a 5125 year cycle that was coming to an end. Apart from that calendar they also used several different ones – Tzolk’in for religious events and Haab’, a 365-day solar calendar.
The Maya people had very peculiar beauty standards and weren’t content with the way nature created them. It was considered beautiful to have an elongated skull with a really flat frontal bone. To achieve that effect they would attach special wooden planks to babies’ heads to deform them in this particular way. A crooked, eagle-like nose was also considered beautiful among men. All these features were considered noble and were the beauty standards for most people. Chubbiness was also a sign of beauty and prosperity.
The Maya people invented pitz, a game very similar to modern soccer. Two teams of men had to pass a rubber ball using only their feet and no hands right into the stone hoop placed up high. The men wore special protection gear as the games usually turned out to be quite rough. It wasn’t just for leisure – some of the games had religious purposes and could end with human sacrifices.
The Mayans have invented their own sauna-like structures and used them extensively for cleansing purposes. Mostly made of stone, those structures served the same purpose they do today – to improve health and cleanse the body. The earliest discovered sweatbath dates back 3,000 years – much earlier than similar baths created by the Roman civilization!
It still remains a mystery why the Maya civilization came to an end (apart from the later Spanish Empire colonizers, of course). Things were going great for the Mayans up until the 8th century, but then the culture started to decline, with major cities getting abandoned fast. Historians presume it was warfare, drought, overpopulation, or the mix of all three that sped up the decline of the Maya civilization, but no one knows for sure. And there is not much written evidence left to shed light on the events of those times.
The Maya people are still around despite all the talk about their civilization disappearing. They speak dozens of languages belonging to various ethnic groups that are all called ‘Maya’, which is an umbrella term for hundreds of ethnicities. They have been severely oppressed in the course of last 500 years first by the Spanish, then by various diseases, and then by the modern American government. Still, they have preserved much of their traditions and history and have fought hard to get their ancestral lands back.