(From https://maya.nmai.si.edu administered by The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)
The Maya World
The early Maya established sedentary communities in the Pacific coastal regions around 1800 BC. By 250 AD, the Maya had developed a vibrant civilization consisting of numerous independent city-states, including the well-known ceremonial centers of Palenque, Tikal, Copán and Calakmul. Many of these ancient sites are surrounded by contemporary Maya towns and villages that have been actively populated for several hundred, and sometimes thousands, of years. The Maya homelands continue to influence their culture and the Maya worldview.
“While traveling through the Maya world, I have seen a great variety of landscapes, ancient sites, and modern cities. Despite local differences, I have found that all of us Maya people share a deep connection to the homelands we walk on, the corn we eat, and the sky we watch.” Julián Cruz Cortés, Yucatec Maya, Architect
The Creation Story of the Maya
The Popol Vuh, or Popol Wuj in the K’iche’ language, is the story of creation of the Maya. Members of the royal K’iche’ lineages that had once ruled the highlands of Guatemala recorded the story in the 16th century to preserve it under the Spanish colonial rule. The Popol Vuh, meaning “Book of the Community,” narrates the Maya creation account, the tales of the Hero Twins, and the K’iche’ genealogies and land rights. In this story, the Creators, Heart of Sky and six other deities including the Feathered Serpent, wanted to create human beings with hearts and minds who could “keep the days.” But their first attempts failed. When these deities finally created humans out of yellow and white corn who could talk, they were satisfied. In another epic cycle of the story, the Death Lords of the Underworld summon the Hero Twins to play a momentous ball game where the Twins defeat their opponents. The Twins rose into the heavens, and became the Sun and the Moon. Through their actions, the Hero Twins prepared the way for the planting of corn, for human beings to live on Earth, and for the Fourth Creation of the Maya.
“Our Creation Story teaches us that the first Grandparents of our people were made from white and yellow corn. Maize is sacred to us because it connects us with our ancestors. It feeds our spirit as well as our bodies.” Juana Batz Puac, K’iche’ Maya, Day Keeper
The Maya Today
Today, more than seven million Maya live in their original homelands of Mesoamerica and in countries all over the world. Two thousand years ago, the ancient Maya developed one of the most advanced civilizations in the Americas. They developed a written language of hieroglyphs and invented the mathematical concept of zero. With their expertise in astronomy and mathematics, the Maya developed a complex and accurate calendar system. Hundreds of restored ancient cities with temple-pyramids, palaces, ball courts, and grand plazas are studied by archaeologists, and are visited by millions of tourists from all over the world each year. Contemporary Maya live and work near many of these archaeological sites. Language, tradition, and a deep sensibility toward the land and the sky continue to shape their worldview. The Maya are guardians of their culture and actively work to rediscover their own past as they look towards the future.
"The Maya today - we are the direct descendants of our ancient culture made up of expert builders, excellent astronomers, precise calendar keepers, and experienced artists. We give continuity to our traditions, our ways of thinking and our language, and we are worthy heirs of our origins. Weyano’one–we are here." José Huchim Herrera, Yucatec Maya, Archaeologist and Architect
Connecting Earth & Sky
For millennia, careful astronomical observations have guided the planting cycles of corn, the Maya staple crop. In much the same way that their ancestors watched the movements of the Sun along the horizon, and watched for the appearance of certain constellations in the east, Maya farmers today use their knowledge of the sky to plan the agricultural cycle of corn, and to plan for the best times to conduct offerings and ceremonies. By observing the natural cycles that link Earth and sky over thousands of years, the Maya have constructed a worldview of the Universe where time is cyclical and all things are interconnected.
“My ancestors believed that the ceiba, our Maya tree of life, is the connection between the Earth and the sky. Today, the ceiba is still considered sacred, and it is often planted at the center of our villages.” Alonso Méndez, Tzeltal Maya, Cultural Astronomer