Art of the Maya

The ancient Maya were united by belief systems and cultural practices that included a distinct architectural style and a writing system.

1000 B.C.E. - 1521 C.E.

Beginner's guide

Learn about the Mayan writing system, historical periods, and city-states.

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Quiriguá
Quiriguá

The ruins of Quirigua contain some outstanding 8th-century monuments and an impressive series of carved stelae and sculpted calendars that constitute an essential source for the study of Mayan civilization.

Copán
Copán

The ruined citadel and imposing public squares reveal the three main stages of development before the city was abandoned in the early 10th century.

Tikal
Tikal

The ceremonial center of Tikal contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps.

Plaque of a Maya king from Teotihuacan
Plaque of a Maya king from Teotihuacan

This plaque is one of relatively few imported Maya objects ever found at Teotihuacan and indicates that interaction between the two cultures went both ways.

The Mesoamerican Calendar
The Mesoamerican Calendar

Calendars also tell us a great deal about how Mesoamerican cultures understood and structured their world.

Maya glyphs, a basic introduction
Maya glyphs, a basic introduction

Maya hieroglyphs were first identified as a writing system during the nineteenth century, when the bar-and-dot numerical system was deciphered.

Maya: The Yaxchilán Lintels
Maya: The Yaxchilán Lintels

Carved lintels were commissioned by elites and attest to ritual activities, like bloodletting.

Maya: The Fenton Vase
Maya: The Fenton Vase

Vessels like this are an important source of information about Maya society since few of their books survive.

Chakalte’, Relief with Enthroned Ruler
Chakalte’, Relief with Enthroned Ruler

Look up! This elaborate carving could be seen as one walked into the temple, but only VIPs had access.

Mirror-Bearer
Mirror-Bearer

This fabulously-dressed mirror-bearer imitates the humans who performed this function in the royal courts.

Vessel with a mythological scene
Vessel with a mythological scene

During ceremonies, the user of this cup might be invited to share the story depicted here in Maya glyphs.

Palenque (Classic Period)
Palenque (Classic Period)

One of many Maya city-states, Palenque rose to prominence in the seventh century thanks to an ambitious local lord.

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