Mayan Civilisation: Inventions and Achievements

In the previous posts regarding the Maya, I’ve talked about their amazing calendars and infrastructure. In this post I’m going to be briefly looking at some of the remarkable inventions and achievements the Maya have developed.

A system of writing:


Among the ancient Americas the Maya invented the most advanced form of writing, known as glyphs. Glyphs are used to describe or represent a word, sound or even a syllable through pictures or symbols. The Maya used about 700 different glyphs, by which 80% of the language is now understood.

The Maya wrote about their history and achievements all the time, on walls, pillars and big stone slabs. In particular, they also wrote books (or codex’s) about almost everything; gods, daily life, new leaders and more. These books were made of bark and folded like a fan. Unfortunately, because of the Spanish, many of the books were destroyed, thought by Spanish priests to have been depicting the devil and demons; a good job a few survived! In relation to their system of writing, on my previous posts I linked a video regarding the decoding of their language, a great documentary!

Law and order:


The Maya had their own laws and punishments to coincide. However, they were usually very reasonable and fair. If you stole something, you were held captive by the victim as punishment, for less serious crimes, you would have some hair cut off. Short hair was a sign of disgrace and dishonesty among the Maya. Another punishment included possessions being sold at auction. Moreover, the Maya held their own trials, displaying similarities to our current practices: evidence was presented before a judge and if found guilty you would be punished.


The Maya loved their sports, having a ball-court in every city, similar to stadiums that we have today. The games were of great importance to the Maya, often playing during religious festivals every 20 days. The courts were located at the foot of temples, in honour of the Gods and Goddesses. The courts had large playing areas; each with a stone hoop mounted on the wall at one end. The Maya loved playing a rough sport called pok-a-tok, by which the aim of the game was to get a solid rubber ball through the hoop, using only your hips, shoulders or arms. The winners often won possessions of the losing team. However, the losing team, often played by captives (often extremely exhausted and hungry) were sacrificed in the name of the Mayan Gods.

Check out this call video showing the sport in action! Click here.



Mayan Civilisation: Unprecedented Constructions

Like many other ancient civilisations, such as the Greeks and Egyptians, the Maya have astonished millions with their unique and spectacular style of architecture. Spanning several thousand years, the Maya built large cities from their growth and power from their religious and bureaucratic practices. One city in particular, Chichen Itza, is Mexico’s largest tourist destination for an archaeological site with an estimated 1.2 million visitors each year!

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Images of Chichen Itza

One of the most noticeable creations of the Maya are their distinctive stepped pyramids. These pyramids were built to dedicate deity’s, whose shrine sat on the peak of the pyramid, some towering over two-hundred feet tall, for example El Mirador. Like other marvelling constructions, its amazing how this ancient civilisation could build such amazing infrastructures. Something that can be speculated to be unimaginable in today’s age with our technology, theoretical knowledge and practices.

El Mirador Jaguar temple

El Mirador

In addition, to housing shrines, some pyramids were also home to some remarkable tombs, one in particular is the one tomb of the Pakal. Located in the largest pyramid in the site of Palenque, the Temple of the Inscriptions is said to be a monument to celebrate the reign of Pakal, he was given the name “Mayan astronaut” from the picture depicted on the lid of his tomb.


Temple of the Inscriptions

The video below shows the discovery.

Other remarkable constructions include observatories, used to map out phases of celestial objects such as the moon. In relation, many temples have doorways and other features that align to celestial events. in addition, the Maya had ball-courts,  caves and palaces.



Mayan Civilisation: The Mayan Calendars

If you haven’t heard about the Maya, then you’re about to. Famous for their Mayan Calendar (which people believed predicted the world would end on the 21st December 2012 – good job they were wrong), the Maya, located in pre-Columbian American were one of the most developed ancient civilisations during the pre-classic period; mathematicians, astronomers, builders and agricultural wonders are just a few of the contributions associated with the Mayans. And did you know? The Maya still exist to this day! In this post we’re going to be briefly looking at the Mayan Calendars.


The Maya had three calendars, The Long Count was used for historical purposes, helping the Maya to record their own history. The Haab was a civil calendar based on a year of 360 days consisting of 18 periods of 20 days. However, to synchronize it with the solar year, five days were later added. The Tzolkin was used for ceremonial purposes, based on a year of 260 days (20 periods of 13 days).  The significance behind this calendar is still unknown but it’s thought to coincide with Venus’s orbit of 263 days.


Long Count or Mayan Calendar.

The famous calendar that we’ve all come to know about is the Long Count calendar, which started on 11 August 3114 BC, and ended on 21st December 2012 AD. The calendar calculated the solar year to a high level of accuracy; accumulating a day’s error in 4 years, today’s Gregorian calendar accumulates a day’s error after 3257 years. Note that it’s believed that the Mayan didn’t invent the calendar, instead it was passed down to them. However, for a calendar that has been speculated to have been used from around 2000 BC, you could say the calendar was a marvel of its time. Using symbols they could theoretically “tell the time”, like we have numbers or Roman numerals, the Maya had their own language, a language which has recently been decoded. There’s a great documentary on the cracking of the Mayan code (see below).