The modern Maya living in Mexico and northern Central America are the descendants of a dynamic culture that archaeologists trace 4,000 years into the past. The peak of Maya cultural development extends from ca. 300 B.C. to the 16th century. The Maya, of this period, are today known for their achievements that include an accurate calendar system, precise astronomical observations, mathematical innovations (independent invention of the concept of zero), and large cities with monumental temples, tombs, and stone sculptures. They also developed the only complete writing system in the Americas. Maya polychrome pottery and murals show elaborate palace scenes, ball game activity and representations of Maya deities, earning them the nickname of “the Greeks of the New World”.
This course provides an overview of the development of Ancient Maya culture from its Tropical Forest origins, through the achievements of the Classic Period, and up to the “Great Maya Collapse” of the 9th century. We will then follow the geographical shift of Maya civilization northward to Yucatan where early Spanish explorers encountered many independent Maya city-states at the time of the Spanish Conquest. The Maya survived the Conquest and are represented today by millions of Maya, speaking 21 Maya dialects, retaining aspects of the ancient Maya worldview, pursuing customary agricultural practices, and still participating in traditional religious rituals.