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The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed by the Maya peoples in an area that encompasses southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. The Maya civilization is known for the Maya hieroglyphic script, the only known fully developed writing system of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems.
Politics and religion
The Maya civilization developed from the the Archaic period, prior to 2000 BC, to the fall of the last Maya city in 1697 by the Spanish Empire. Classic period rule was centered around the concept of the "divine king", who acted as a mediator between mortals and the supernatural realm. Kingship was patrilineal, and power would normally pass to the eldest son. A prospective king was also expected to be a successful war leader. Maya politics was dominated by a closed system of patronage, although the exact political make-up of a kingdom varied from city-state to city-state. By the Late Classic, the aristocracy had greatly increased, resulting in the corresponding reduction in the exclusive power of the divine king. As a part of their religion, the Maya practiced human sacrifice.
The Maya civilization developed highly sophisticated artforms, and the Maya created art using both perishable and non-perishable materials, including wood, jade, obsidian, ceramics, sculpted stone monuments, stucco, and finely painted murals.
Maya cities tended to expand haphazardly, and the city center would be occupied by commercial and administrative complexes, surrounded by an irregular sprawl of residential districts. Different parts of a city would often be linked by causeways, a sort of paved roads. The principal architecture of the city consisted of palaces, pyramid-temples, ceremonial ballcourts, and structures aligned for astronomical observation.
The Maya elite were literate, and developed a complex system of hieroglyphic writing that was the most advanced in the pre-Columbian Americas. The Maya recorded their history and ritual knowledge in screenfold books, of which only three uncontested examples remain, the rest having been destroyed by the Spanish. There are also a great many examples of Maya text found on ceramics and stelae, a kind of monuments that consist of tall sculpted stone shafts. The Maya developed a highly complex series of interlocking ritual calendars, and employed mathematics that included one of the earliest instances of the explicit zero in the world.
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