25 Surprising Mayan Facts That’ll Amaze You

Posted by , Updated on March 22, 2024

The Mayan civilization was incredible! They had made incredible advancements in medicine, math, and even language. Both the Aztecs and Mayans were two of the great pre-Colombian Central American civilizations. However the Mayan civilization actually preceded and outlived the Aztecs! In fact, Mayans still live in the Yucatan peninsula today! Get ready, because you are about to read 25 unbelievable facts about the Mayans that might surprise you!



Although their civilization has declined and been conquered, in many rural parts of Mexico and Guatemala Mayan language and culture perseveres

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In fact, there are an estimated 7 million Maya still living in and around the Yucatan Peninsula

mayan facts

Some linguists believe that the word "shark" was originally a Mayan word

mayan facts

The pre-Colombian Mayans often sought to "enhance" the physical features of their children. Mothers would press boards on the foreheads of their kids so that they would be flatter (mostly just in the upper class)

mayan facts

Objects were also often dangled in front of a baby's eyes until the baby was cross eyed, which was another desirable trait found in nobility

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Children were all named according to the day on which they were born

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A surprising Mayan fact is that Mayan medicine was actually quite advanced. They sutured wounds using human hair, filled teeth, and even made prosthesis

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Some Mayans today still practice blood sacrifice. Don't worry though, human sacrifice is no longer practiced...chickens only

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Mayans used painkillers taken from their natural environment in both religious rituals (as hallucinogenic drugs) and in medicine (as anesthetics)

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Just like the Aztecs, the Mayans were avid players of the "Mesoamerican Ballgame". Courts were found in all major cities and it was often associated with decapitation and sacrifice, possibly of the losing team.

mayan facts

In fact, severed heads have been thought to be used as balls

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A modern version called "Ulama" is still played today, but once again decapitation is obviously no longer a part of the game

mayan facts

Saunas and sweat baths played a huge role in Mayan culture. They believed that the saunas helped them relieve impurities

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Although the Mayan people live on today, the last self-governing Mayan state submitted to Spanish rule in 1697

mayan facts

The ruins and pyramids you always see in pictures are most likely those of Chichen Itza, one of the largest Mayan cities. It has just recently been bought by the government from a private owner

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The scariest part of the Mayan religion was their sacrificial rituals. Prisoners, slaves, and others were prepared for sacrifice by being painted blue and sometimes tortured. They were then led up to the top of one of the pyramids. There they were either shot with a volley of arrows or they had their still beating heart cut out of their chest by a temple priest. Sometimes the assistant priests would then skin the victim and the head priest would dress himself in the skin and perform a ritual dance.

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Contrary to popular belief, the Mayans don't have just one calendar and none of their calendars predicted the world would end in 2012

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They have three calendars that work in cycles. One of them, the Haab, has a 365 day cycle just like the modern Gregorian calendar. The Long Count calendar cycles roughly every 2,880,000 days and was said to reset in 2012. This led to the doomsday prophecies.

mayan factshttps://www.flickr.com/photos/64092100@N02/5837426374/

The Mayans had one of the most advanced writing systems of any ancient civilization and wrote on almost anything they could find, including their buildings. Graffiti anyone?

mayan facts

Unfortunately many of their writings were lost during the Spanish conquest. Through laborious study during the 20th and 21 centuries much of their remaining writings have been recovered and translated

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Like the Aztecs, Mayans never used iron or steel. Their weapons were made of obsidian, or volcanic rock.

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Besides having flattened foreheads and crossed eyes, Mayan nobleman had noses that were built up with putty giving them a beaked shape. Their teeth were also inlaid with jade.

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Speaking of teeth, nobelwomen filed their teeth into points

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Outside of the Babylonian systems, the Mayans were perhaps the first civilization to explicitly use the number 0 as a place holder. Indian mathematicians later became the first to use it as a mathematical value in computations.

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Nobody knows how the Mayan Empire declined. Long before the Spanish came many of the great cities had already been long abandoned and lay in ruins. Scholars have hypothesized reasons ranging from drought and famine to overpopulation and climate change.

mayan facts