By Charles George

Introduces the background and tradition of the traditional Maya, describing its preclassical and classical classes, social sessions, faith, agriculture, pyramids, astronomy, artwork, and writings.

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Pyramids at Palenque, a Maya site in the Mexican state of Chiapas, all have unique roof combs. Instead of the solid roof combs of Tikal, each Palenque structure is topped with a latticed roof comb, ornately carved with scenes from Maya mythology. Known Maya pyramids number in the thousands. They make up the majority of structures in the central areas of Maya cities. Whereas some served as tombs, others were foundations for temples, astronomical observatories, or other government buildings. Thanks to hieroglyphic carvings on the structures, archaeologists usually are able to determine when each was built and by whom.

The Maya gods resided in the heavens, so worship included watching the sky. Centuries of watching the sun, moon, and stars rise above the horizon eventually led the Maya to develop a sophisticated astronomy. Early scholars noticed that the location from which the heavenly bodies emerged on the horizon varied depending on the season. They studied the phenomenon by driving two stakes in the ground or by placing two vertical stones to align them with the location on the horizon of those celestial events.

This structure is one of the few round Maya structures and was built atop a step pyramid to elevate it above the surrounding terrain for observation of the rising and setting of the sun, the moon, the planet Venus, and other heavenly bodies. The Caracol, which means “Snail” in Spanish, was named for its internal spiral staircase, which resembles the pattern on a snail’s shell. Paintings and carvings on temple walls, along the facades of pyramids and other structures, on countless pieces of ceramic pottery, and on stelae depict scenes of life in every Maya city.

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