Incredible Mayan Inventions and Achievements

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The Maya excelled in agriculture, pottery, writing, calendars and arithmetic, leaving behind an incredible amount of spectacular architecture and symbolic works of art.

The ancient Maya, a diverse set of indigenous peoples who lived in present-day Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, had one of the most sophisticated and complex civilizations in the hemisphere. western.

The Maya civilization lasted over 2,000 years, but the period from around AD 300 to 900, known as the Classic period, was its peak.

The Maya gained a sophisticated understanding of astronomy during this period. They also discovered how to grow corn, beans, squash and cassava in sometimes inhospitable environments; how to build elaborate cities without the use of modern machinery; how to communicate with each other using one of the world’s first written languages; and how to measure time using not one, but two complicated calendar systems.

Astronomy played a huge role in Maya life.

Beginning around AD 250, the Classic Period was the golden age of the Maya Empire. The Classic Maya civilization reached nearly 40 cities and large populations, including Tikal, Uaxactún, Copán, Bonampak, Dos Pilas, Calakmul, Palenque, and Río Bec.

Excavations of Maya sites have unearthed plazas, palaces, temples and pyramids. Supported by a large agricultural population, the Maya cities, although practicing primitive ‘cut and burn’ agriculture, also exhibited evidence of more advanced agricultural methods such as irrigation and terracing.

Many temples and palaces built by the Classic Maya had stepped pyramid shapes and were adorned with highly detailed reliefs and inscriptions. These structures earned the Maya their reputation as the great artists of Mesoamerica.

Representation of a Maya astronomer with an outstretched eye. Photo: Common Wikipedia

Among the many mathematical and astronomical innovations the Mayas under the guidance of their religious ritual.

The Maya built their temples and other sacred buildings using their sophisticated knowledge of astronomy. For example, the site of the pyramid at Chichén Itzá in Mexico is determined by the position of the sun at the spring and fall equinoxes. During these two days, the shadow of the pyramid at dusk coincides with a sculpture of the head of the Mayan serpent god. The serpent appears to crawl into the Earth at sunset; the shadow serves as the serpent’s body.

Pyramid of Chichen Itza.

Amazingly, the ancient Maya were able to build complex temples and vast cities without using metal or wheels, two things we would consider necessary building materials. They did, however, make use of a variety of other “new” inventions and technologies, particularly in the decorative arts. For example, they created intricate looms to weave fabrics and created a variety of glitter paintings using mica, a material that is still used in technology today.

Until recently, it was widely assumed that vulcanization – the process of mixing rubber with other materials to make it more durable – was developed in the 19th century by American (from Connecticut) Charles Goodyear. Historians now believe the Maya were making rubber goods 3,000 years before Goodyear got his patent in 1843.

According to the researchers, the Mayans discovered this process by accident during a sacred rite in which they mixed the rubber tree with the morning glory plant. When the Mayans discovered how durable and adaptable this new material was, they began to use it in many ways, including the production of water-resistant fabrics, adhesives, book bindings, figurines and of giant rubber balls used in the ritual game. known as pokatok.

The ancient peoples of Mesoamerica knew how to make rubber

Like many other great lost civilizations around the world, the Maya formalized their language in a codified writing system.

Similar to ancient Egypt, their glyphs were used to express words, sounds, and syllables through the use of pictures and other symbols. Historians believe the Maya used around 800 glyphs to do this and, incredibly, 80% of their language can still be understood by their descendants today.

The Maya also created a form of ancient book that chronicled daily life, news, exploits of their gods, and many other things. Like all other sane civilizations, the Maya were keen to record their history and accomplishments, even going so far as to mark important occasions on pillars, walls, and huge slabs of stone, much like the ancients did. Egyptians and Romans. Their books were written on bark and folded into fan-shaped structures.

The last two pages of
The last two pages of the “Paris Codex” are one of the few surviving Maya books. Source: National Library of France/Wikimedia Commons

The Dresden Codex, the oldest surviving book written in the Americas, contains tables describing the movements of Venus, Mars, and the Moon. The Maya also calculated the occurrence of lunar eclipses based on observations and tracked the movement of Jupiter and Saturn.

Mayan medicine was more advanced than you might think, and like other cultures, medicine was a mixture of religion and science.

The Maya believed that imbalance and balance were the keys to good and bad health. Health and disease are correlated with balance. They argued that a person’s diet, gender and age were always determining factors in this regard. They knew stitches and often used human hair to suture wounds. They also did regular casts to speed healing and recovery from broken bones and other broken bones.

By all accounts, they were particularly skilled in dentistry and used iron pyrite as dental fillings. Maya “witch doctors” were also skilled at creating jade and turquoise prosthetics and used obsidian to make cups.

Source: Adams, Richard EW (2005) [1977]. Prehistoric Mesoamerica (3rd ed.). Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

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