8 junio, 2024

The 15 most important cultural contributions of the Mayans

The cultural contributions of the Maya to today’s society are numerous. This Mesoamerican culture left a great legacy in areas such as language or astronomy.

This ancient Mesoamerican culture arose between the 20th centuries B.C. C. and XV d. C., and deeply marked the region and other later towns. It was developed in present-day Guatemala, Belize, in the states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Chiapas and Tabasco, in Mexico, and the western zone of El Salvador and Honduras.

They spoke a large number of languages, derived from a common ancestral language, Proto-Mayan. Among these, the Quiché and the Yucatecan stand out. At first they depended on agriculture, especially corn, and grain crops.

They used cotton to make clothing and used stone tools. Their religious articles were simple: censers and small figures. Its buildings were small.

Cultural contributions of the most important Mayans

1. Discovery of the number zero

A concept belonging to modern developments in mathematics, made around 357 BC. C. Although it is known that the Olmecs used it first, the Mayans discovered it independently.

2. The end of the world

A few years ago, the idea that the Mayans had predicted the end of the world in 2012 was popularized. Actually, the Mayan calendar begins in the year 3114 BC. C. and is divided into cycles of 394 years called baktuns.

The thirteenth baktun ended on December 21, 2012, indicating that a new cycle began, but this was interpreted as the end of our era.

3. Language

According to UNESCO, today’s Mayan population has a very rich linguistic variety of up to 69 language groups, some with only 53 speakers (Teko) and others with more than 400,000 (Tsetal).

This current population extends within the territories of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

4. Food

Dishes as popular as corn tortillas, chili and guacamole are another legacy that the Mayans have left us. Many of them are still present in Mexican gastronomy.

5. Architecture

The Mayans built numerous buildings, with a much larger population than the current one in the same area. Among them, the south of Palenque (Belize) stands out, with cities like Xunantunich.

Cities like Tikal had a population between 50 and 60,000 people, in an area without potable water, using canals to use rainwater. Holes were made in the stone to store food. When these were recently discovered, they still had seeds inside.

6. Agriculture

The Mayan agriculture system is very interesting. It is based on the cultivation of grains, corn and the stacking of leaves. Grain and corn are complementary sources of protein. The grain provides the soil with the nitrogen that the corn takes away. The stacked leaves protect the ground from rain and sun.

Experts think that the very long periods of rain forced the Maya to spread throughout Central America, abandoning their cities.

7. Technology

The construction of Mayan buildings goes beyond placing stone on stone. They knew concepts such as stress and fatigue of materials.

When the Spanish arrived in America, they found the traces of the great Mayan cities in a state of abandonment. The little that is known about them is thanks to excavations and the interpretation of their writings and drawings.

Despite having a very complex calendar and number system, they did not discover the wheel nor did they have an alphabet. However, they possessed the first spoken and written language known in the Americas.

8. Art and authorship

The Maya were one of the first cultures in which the creators of paintings and sculptures left their engraved signatures. Only remains of ceramics and murals are preserved, where the beauty and color of their works can be appreciated.

9. Policy

Maya society consisted of a small state whose chief inherited power. The kingdoms were a large city with its surroundings.

There were larger kingdoms that governed larger territories, with names that did not necessarily correspond to a specific location. This system dominated until the years 900 d. C. when the Mayan society collapsed.

10. Astronomy

Thanks to their astronomical observations, the Maya had a calendar of 365 days and a fraction, they knew the Venusian year of 260 days, and a mythical beginning of time located 3114 years BC. C. Based on this they could predict solar eclipses.

11. Writing

The Mayans had the most efficient writing system of all these pre-Columbian peoples. They had more than 700 glyphs that represented letters, syllables, and words. Thanks to its decoding, it has been possible to obtain more data on this culture.

12. Medicine

Mayan medicine was more advanced in the same period than European medicine. They knew the importance of diet for health, they made jade prostheses and knew many medicinal plants.

13. Astrology

Many people who believe in astrology use the Mayan calendars. For example, they believed in a kin, a kind of archetype in the style of the western zodiac. They thought it was an energy that governed lives according to the day of birth.

14. Use of rubber

They used the sap of the rubber tree, along with other plants, to make the balls for the famous Mayan ball games.

15. Architectural technique

The Maya first built a raised platform, on which they added progressively smaller floors. It was a principle later copied by the Aztecs.


The Mayan Civilization. Retrieved from timemaps.com.
The Mayan Heritage. Retrieved from culturalsurvival.org.

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