Welcome to our dedicated Teacher Chatroom where you can swap ideas and get answers fast on anything Maya-related.
Q: Maya, Mayas or Mayan?
A: Mayan is used for the language, as in “There are about 30 different Mayan languages.” In all other cases use Maya, never Mayas. It’s the Maya, the Maya people, the Maya Calendar. (But even the experts get this wrong sometimes.)
Q: Were the Maya, Aztec, and Inca all part of the same civilization?
A: The Maya were not related to the Aztecs or the Inca, both of which began much later than the Maya, and developed in different regions. Any similarities between the Maya and the Aztecs were common to many Mesoamerican cultures. The Maya lived in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The Aztecs lived in central Mexico. The Inca lived in Peru, in South America.
Q: How big was the Maya empire?
A: There was no such thing as a Maya empire - the Maya lived in separate city-states, much like the polis system of Ancient Greece. Although Tikal and Calakmul tried to bring other Maya kingdoms under their control, neither were ever able to create a single, unified kingdom or empire. Moreover, while there were many similarities between the kingdoms, there were also very wide regional differences in language and beliefs.
Q: What’s the deal with the Maya and human sacrifice?
A: The Maya did practice human sacrifice, however most blood sacrifice was not fatal - rather it involved kings, queens or priests giving a little of their own blood to feed the gods. The Hollywood image of mass killings is more similar to the Aztec practice - but new research suggests that even the Aztecs were not quite as bloodthirsty as the conquistadors depicted them.
Q: Is it hard to read Maya glyphs?
A: Until about fifty years ago, it was pretty much impossible. That’s because the use of Maya glyphs was outlawed after the Spanish conquest and eventually no one alive could read them. This period of ignorance gave rise to many misunderstandings and wild guesses about Maya civilization. Scholars have since deciphered the Maya writing system and can now read more than 85% of the hieroglyphs. For the full story, watch Breaking the Maya Code, a documentary directed by David Lebrun.
Q: Did the Maya mysteriously vanish?
A: While many Maya kingdoms were abandoned in the period known as the Collapse (a suspected climate event between the 8th and 9th centuries), the Maya did not vanish. Even after the brutality of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, when Maya books were burned, glyphs were outlawed, and people were tortured and killed, the surviving Maya passed on their spoken languages and what remained of their culture. There are still more than seven million Maya people - speaking around 30 different Mayan languages - living in Central America today.