Ten Amazing facts about the Maya

1 – The Maya had a writing system

The Maya were the only civilization in the Americas to develop a fully-fledged writing system just like ours and were only 1 of 5 cultures in the world to have developed a writing system where they could write anything they said!


2 – The Maya had the number zero

The Maya were 1 of only 2 cultures in the world, and the only culture in the whole of the American continent, to create the number zero!

Maya Numerals

Maya numerals – zero is represented by a stylised shell, unit by a dot and 5 by a bar (Wikipedia)

3 – The Maya built cities in the jungle

The Maya built amazing cities with pyramids and palaces and spectacular art in a rainforest where it is really difficult to live!

Nim Li Punit

A ballcourt in Nim Li Punit Belize (photograph courtesy of C Michael Hogan – Wikipedia)

4 – The Maya built some of the biggest pyramids in the world

They did it without the use of metal tools, the wheel or pack animals!

Tikal temple 1

Temple I on The Great Plaza and North Acropolis (photograph courtesy of Bjørn Christian Tørrissen – Wikipedia)

5 – The Maya were great astronomers

They were noting the movements of the sun, moon, stars and even planets, and record it in books now called codices!

Dresden Codex

Dresden Codex (pp. 55-59, 74) depicting eclipses, multiplication tables and a flood (Wikipedia)

6 – The Maya played the earliest team sport in the world!

The Maya used a rubber ball and would try to hit the ball using their hips, elbows or knees, never their head, hands or feet!

Maya ballgame

Two Maya lords playing ball game (Photograph courtesy of Justin Kerr – Mayavase.com)

7 – The Maya had an elaborate and accurate calendar system!

The Maya calendar (Calendar Round) was actually made of two calendars: a 365-day count called Haab (see here) and a 260-day count called Tzolk’in (see here).

Maya calendar

Conceptual representation of the various cycles of the Maya calendar

8 – The Maya knew how to make rubber balls bouncy!

The Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures mixed rubber with juice of the morning glory plant to make the balls they used in their ballgame bouncy. The modern world didn’t discover how to do this until the 19th century!

Mesoamerican rubber ball

Mesoamerican rubber ball (photograph courtesy of Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic)

9 – The Maya are still living today

In fact half of the population of Guatemala is Maya. You can find Maya people not only in Guatemala but also in Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

Maya Women

Maya women on the marketplace of Chichicastenango, Guatemala 1996 (photograph courtesy of Reinhard Jahn -Wikipedia)

10 – The Maya invented chocolate

Finally and most importantly, we have the amazing Maya to thank for the wonder of chocolate!

molten chocolate

Molten chocolate and a piece of a chocolate bar (photograph from Wikimedia Commons)