The ancient Maya, a diverse group of indigenous people who lived in parts of present-day Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, had one of the most sophisticated and complex civilizations in the Western Hemisphere. Between about 300 and 900 A.D., the Maya were responsible for a number of remarkable scientific achievements”in astronomy, agriculture, engineering and Mayan civilization lasted for more than 2,000 years, but the period from about 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., known as the Classic Period, was its heyday.
During that time, the Maya (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. developed a complex understanding of astronomy. They also figured out how to grow corn, beans, squash and cassava in sometimes-inhospitable places; how to build elaborate cities without modern machinery; how to communicate with one another using one of the world’s first written languages; and how to measure time using not one but two complicated calendar systems.The Maya strongly believed in the influence of the cosmos on daily life.
Consequently, Mayan knowledge and understanding of celestial bodies was advanced for their time: For example, they knew how to predict solar eclipses. They also used astrological cycles to aid in planting and harvesting and developed two calendars that are as precise as those we use today.The first, known as the Calendar Round, was based on two overlapping annual cycles: a 260-day sacred year and a 365-day secular year. Under this system, each day was assigned four pieces of identifying information: a day number and day name in the sacred calendar and a day number and month name in the secular calendar. Every 52 years counted as a single interval, or Calendar Round. After each interval the calendar would reset itself like a clock.Because the Calendar Round measured time in an endless loop, it was a poor way to fix events in an absolute chronology or in relationship to one another over a long period. For this job, a priest working in about 236 BC devised another system: a calendar that he called the Long Count. The Long Count system identified each day by counting forward from a fixed date in the distant past. (In the early 20th century, scholars found that this base date was August 11 or August 13, 3114 BC.) It grouped days into sets, or cycles, as follows: Bakunin (144,000 days), Gatun (7,200 days), tun (360 days), urinal or winal (20 days) and kin (one day).The Long Count calendar worked the same way that the Calendar Round did”it cycled through one interval after another”but its interval, known as a Grand Cycle, was much longer. One Grand Cycle was equal to 13 Bakunin, or about 5,139 solar years. The Maya incorporated their advanced understanding of astronomy into their temples and other religious structures. The pyramid at Chich©n Itz in Mexico (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site., for example, is situated according to the sun’s location during the spring and fall equinoxes. At sunset on these two days, the pyramid casts a shadow on itself that aligns with a carving of the head of the Mayan serpent god. The shadow forms the serpent’s body; as the sun sets, the serpent appears to slither down into the Earth.The ancient Maya civilization existed in the region of present day Mexico and Central Americafrom at least as early as 2600 BC till the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. They were part of the Mesoamerican civilization, which comprised of a number of indigenous cultures in the region. The Maya are most renowned for their mathematics and astronomy which allowed them to create a highly sophisticated calendar. They were highly skilled architectures and engineers who built monumental structures including palaces; astronomical observatories; ballcourts; temple pyramids; remarkably strait elevated roads; and aqueducts using water pressure technology. The Maya also developed the only complete writing system in Mesoamerica and produced rubberseveral millennia before vulcanization. Here are the 10 major accomplishments of the ancient Maya civilization in various fields including astronomy, mathematics, architecture, engineering and writing.Along with the Hindus of India, the Maya was the earliest civilization to comprehend and use the concept of zero, enabling them to have a proper place value system to represent large numbersand perform calculations efficiently. Maya had developed the concept of zero by 4th century AD. At this time, the Europeans were still struggling with the Roman numeral system which suffered from serious defects including the absence of zero and a place value system. It led to a tedious method for performing calculations and representing large numbers. It was not till 13th century ADthat the decimal system and zero of Hindus was introduced to Europe through the Arabs; and it took three more centuries for the Hindu Arabic numeral system to be fully comprehended and used extensively by the Europeans. The Maya scholars and engineers, on the other hand, were not limited by a defective number system leading to great achievements in several fields.he famous Maya calendar was based on the system common in Mesoamerican cultures but it was the Maya who developed the calendar to its maximum sophistication. The Maya calendar uses 3 different dating systems: the Tzolkin (divine calendar), the Haab (civil calendar) and theLong Count. Tzolkin combines a cycle of 20 named days with another cycle of 13 numbers, to produce 260 unique days. There are several theories for the 260 day count of Tzolkin including it being based on the human gestation period; agricultural cycle of the region; and positions of the planet Venus. The Haab was the solar calendar with 365 days. It consisted of 18 months of 20 days each, followed by 5 extra days, which were considered unlucky and known as Wayeb. The Long Count was a non-repeating calendar representing the number of days since the start of the Maya era. The right-most position counts single days, the next position is a block of 20; the next is a block of 18 to make the calendar match the approximate 360 days length of a year; the remaining positions follow their vigesimal number system.