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The Maya (MAH-yuh or MEYE-uh) civilization existed in Southern Mexico and northern Central America between from A.D. 300 to 900. Its population totaled 5-16 million people.

The Maya have been called the "Greeks of the New World" by many historians. The Maya had some knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, ritual ball games for entertainment, and the use of their complex written language. Unlike Europeans at the time, the Maya had developed the concept of zero.

The Maya used a yearly solar calendar that was fairly precise, using 18 months and 20 days per month, with five additional unlucky days at the end, which totals to 365 days. The Maya did not take into account the additional 1/4 day, which we take into account through leap year, because it was not important for them. They additionally had a 260 day ritual calendar which worked in conjuction with the 365 day calendar to create a 52-year cycle. They also used a Long Count calendar which counts the number of days since the creation of the world on August 13, 3113 BC. This calendar returns to zero in 2012, which has caused an Apocalypse scare. However, this stems from a misunderstanding of the calendar, because the calendar is generally abbreviated to 5 places, when in reality there are over 40, so the calendar will continue after this date. The calendar is written with five numbers with a period between each, such as Each of the numbers between the period represents a place, since the Maya number system was base-20. In this date, for example, the 1 represents 1 days, the 2 represents 2*20 days, the 3 represents 3*360 days, the 4 represents 4*7,200 and the 5 represents 5*144,000. Each digit except the second (2) and the last (5) goes to 19 before returning to zero. The second only goes to 18 and the last only goes to 13. The original date for the world was, which will be the same date on December 21, 20012, and the reason for the Apocalypse scare.

The Maya were politically formed similarly to the Greek city-states. Each city was politically independent and ruled by a king who had multiple wives. Each king had a ceremonial center containing temple pyramids, ball courts and stelae, which are tall stone statues containing a portrait on one side and glyphs on the other. Some cities politically controlled other sites, as Copan controlled Quirigua until a revolt in which the people of Quirigua beheaded the ruler of Copan, Waxaklahun Ub'a K'awiil, or 18 Rabbit. The four major sites are Palenque, Tikal, Calakmul and Copan. Later, Chichen Itza was built, but this site was built after the collapse of many others. For food, the Maya grew maize (corn), squash and beans. Like American Indians the Maya had no coins or paper money, but sometimes traded in cacao (chocolate) beans, shells or other goods. The Maya, unlike the Aztecs and the Olmec, had a system of writing based on the use of hieroglyphs, but like the Aztecs built stepped temple-pyramids which had small temples on top.

The Maya religion was polytheistic and the Maya "appeased the gods" by engaging in human sacrifice and autosacrifice. Autosacrifice and the use of hallucinogenic drugs were important to the Maya religion because they allowed the use of visions, which the Maya used to speak to their ancestors. The Maya believed in creation as explained in their religious text named the "Popol Vuh." Wealthy women enjoyed some rights in the society, and in some cases were Queen when there was no male heir. The Maya wrote accordion-fold, bark paper books called codices. There are only 4 known in existence today, which are in museums in Europe, because the Spanish held massive book-burnings upon arriving on the continent because they believed the books to be anti-Christian.

The reason for the decline of the Mayan civilization is not completely understood, but seems to be related to the destruction of the natural environment. The Maya needed trees to make stucco to cover their pyramids, which lead to erosion, which led to insufficient crops, which led the Maya to build more temples, which continued the cycle. Mayan cities were abruptly abandoned in the 800s. After this point, the Maya civilization became small villages, and today 4 million people still speak the Mayan language.

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