Have you heard about the Maya people of Mexico and Central America? Here are some fun facts for kids to learn more about their culture!
- The Maya civilization is a pre-Columbian, dominant Mesoamerican society, but over 7 million Maya live today throughout the Yucatán, Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador! Modern Maya families both preserve traditions (such as medicine, agriculture, handicrafts, and celebrations) while evolving their culture as we all have. The Maya have worked to maintain their ancient wisdom while adding new practices to keep up with changing times.
- The 30 Mayan languages form a distinct family of languages that have been spoken for over 5000 years in Mesoamerica! When the Spanish came, the Spanish language quickly dominated the area. The Spanish discouraged indigenous people from speaking their languages. However, there has been increased interest in preserving the endangered languages and developing more programs at schools to pass on this linguistic tradition. In some areas, families speak the Mayan languages at home while the schools still teach Spanish.
- Many people know the Mayans for their massive and developed cities and stone pyramids. Did you know they are still discovering and unearthing more pyramids!? As recent as 2015, researchers uncovered Toniná in Chiapas. This is now Mexico’s tallest pyramid at 246 feet (75 meters) in height (surpassing the 213-foot Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan). In Campeche, archeologists discovered the ruins of other Maya cities (Chactún, Tamchén and Lagunita). Thick, jungle vegetation completely concealed the ruins.
- Ancient Mayans had several intricate calendars. For example, Tzolk’in was used to plan religious ceremonies, Haab’ was a solar calendar, and the Long Count Calendar (with a cycle of 5125 years), which was one of the first uses of zero as a placeholder. Go here to convert today’s date to the Mayan calendar date.
- Mayan medicine was quite advanced. In fact, they sutured wounds using human hair for the stitches, they made prosthetic teeth from jade and turquoise and knew how to set broken bones. Mayan medicine men had an extensive knowledge of herbal medicines and used painkillers taken from their natural environment in both religious rituals (as hallucinogenic drugs) and in medicine (as anesthetics).
- Ancient Mayans played a ball game called pitz. The strategy involved players putting a small rubber ball through an elevated hoop without using their hands. The rubber ball was very hard. As a result, the players wore protection of leather, wood, or stone. Sometimes, the players that lost the game could be sacrificed!
- The Maya wrote books about ceremonies and everyday events in their elaborate hieroglyphic script. They made durable paper from the bark and pulp of certain trees and painted scenes along with the hieroglyphics. Unfortunately, in the 1540s the Spanish burned many of the books because they believed superstitions filled the books.
- Most of the earliest Maya were farmers living in small villages of pole and thatch houses. They developed advanced farming techniques such as crop rotation, the use of fertilizers, most houses had household gardens, and in hilly and mountainous areas they used terraces. The main crops were (and still are!) corn, beans, squash, avocados, chile peppers, pineapples, papayas, and cacao. People drank cacao and also used it as money.
- Cacao was extremely important to the Maya. The Maya believed the gods of a mountain gave them “kakaw.” They roasted and grounded cacao beans into a paste. They then mixed it with water, vanilla, honey, chilies, and other spices to make a drink. Religious ceremonies often used cacao. In addition, many users believed that chocolate could make them stronger and healthier.
- The Mayans had many deities. “Hunab Ku” was the main god. The Mayans believed he was the creator of the world. The feathered-serpent deity was “Kukulkna.” Some Mesoamerican cultures knew him as Quetzalcoatl. Because the area suffered from droughts and depended on rain for crops, Chac (god of rain and thunder) appears on many of the pyramids and stelae. Kinich Ahau was the Sun god, who would often appear as a macaw to consume offerings to him.
I hope that you enjoyed learning about the Maya!
Welcome to our fourth annual celebration of Native American Heritage Month! All month long we’ll be sharing posts about sharing these rich cultures with kids. Find our full schedule of posts below, and don’t forget to link up your own as well! We’re also having a giveaway (details coming soon!) Don’t miss our series from last year, 2015, and 2014, plus you can find even more ideas on our Native/Indigenous Cultures Pinterest board:
Tiny Tapping Toes on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Jingle Dress Dancing
Crafty Moms Share: Sacagawea and the Shoshone
Creative World of Varya
Native American Heritage Month Giveaway
From MotherTongues: Himdag T-shirt, women’s or unisex, S-XL, US/Canada Shipping Only
From Abrams Books: Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bird Girl, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, and The Star People, US/Canada Shipping Only
From Wisdom Tales Press: Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days, Indian Boyhood: The True Story of an Indian Upbringing, Whispers of the Wolf, Horse Raid: The Making of a Warrior, US Shipping Only
From Penguin Kids: I Am Sacagawea, US Shipping Only
From Quarto: Path to the Pacific, US Shipping Only
From Kid World Citizen: Machu Pichu Lesson Plan (English and Spanish versions)
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