When people think about the Maya civilization, most probably remember the 2012 doomsday scenario that the Maya supposedly predicted through their long count calendar. While there is no actual evidence to suggest the Maya thought the world would end in 2012, their existence has been shrouded in mystery and misconception nonetheless.
Below you'll find 5 interesting facts about the Maya Civilization that will hopefully correct some common misconceptions and shed insight into one of the most sophisticated civilizations to have existed.
1. The Maya Civilization Never Disappeared
People tend to ask the question, what happened to the ancient Maya civilization? While many think that the Maya have disappeared, you might be surprised to learn that they are still around to this day. Indigenous Maya, decedents of their ancient ancestors, populate the lands of Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and parts of El Salvador.
More information on the Maya population and their place in the modern world can be found here.
2. They Fought Wars Among Themselves
There's a reason it's not called the Maya empire. The civilization was made up of diverse cities that each had their own king. Neighboring cities would often wage wars against each other to seize resources or expand their territory. Those captured in battle would be used as slaves for labor in building religious monuments to honor their gods. Today the remnants of these religious monuments are known as the Maya ruins.
3. They Played A Ballgame Called Pok-Ta-Pok
Many ancient Maya cities held a ball court that was used for ritual ceremonies. Players would attempt to hit a large rubber ball through a stone hoop while only using their thighs and hips. If that sounds difficult, it's because it was. Players rarely scored and there is evidence to suggest that the losing team's captain was sacrificed to the gods.
To see this strange sport in action, you can watch this video.
4. Some Cities Were Occupied When the Spanish Arrived
The Maya city of Tulum, once a major trading port for the population of the Yucatan Peninsula, was still occupied in the 16th century. A Spanish expedition in 1518 sailed past Tulum and the crew was said to be astonished by the city's grandeur, apparently describing it as "a village so large that Seville would not have appeared larger or better." The city was abandoned by the end of the 16th century after diseases brought by the Spaniards decimated the population.
5. New Archaeological Sites Are Still Being Discovered
Some Maya cities were situated in dense forests, making them difficult to discover and excavate. The city of Ek Balam, which is only a two hour drive from Cancun, was just discovered in the late 1980's and wasn't open to the public until the 1990's. While the city covers an area of twelve square kilometers, only one square kilometer has been properly excavated and is open to the public.