“For it is true that in its buildings and the multitude of them it is the most remarkable of all things which up to this day have been discovered in the Indies; for they are so many in number and so many are the parts of the country where they are found, and so well built are they of cut stone in their fashion, that it fills one with astonishment.”
Friar Diego de Landa
Account of Things in Yucatan,1566
Over three million Maya people still live in the areas once occupied by their ambitious ancestors, and many still speak one of the thirty dialects of the Mayan language. The Maya civilization was one of the most sophisticated , complex, and artistic cultures of the ancient Americas. During its height, the Maya flouished in an area that covers the highlands and the lowlands of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and northern Honduras and El Salvador. The Maya created powerful, independent states ruled by divine kings who were obsessed with power and prestige. The Maya built incredible cities that sometimes radiated out for many miles and were often connected with smooth raised roads. They developed an elaborate writing system and used complex mathematical and calendrical systems with which they planned their farming schedules, rituals, and wars. Their accomplishments rivaled those of the ancient Europeans, Africans, and Asians. Unlike the ancient civilizations of Egypt or the Middle East, the Maya did not have the assistance of the wheel, metal tools, or beasts of burden. The Maya heartland, situated southeast of the mountainous land in southern Mexico and northern Central America, consists of both highlands and lowlands. The lowlands, lying to the north, were the heart of the activity for the Maya. The Yucatan region is void of fresh water sources except for cenotes, or natural sinkholes, and the plant life is low and scrubby. To the west of the Yucatan, in Belize and eastern Guatemala, the land is hilly and crisscrossed by rivers. Unlike the Yucatan, this region is very green and lush with rain forests and abundant animal life.