The Classic Maya
Settlement Patterns and
Slow, gradual change.
• Did not develop overnight.
• Due to several factors
• population growth
• beginnings of cultural variability
• development of ideologies
Migration of ideas from other
Small Kingdoms, No centralized
Succession of regional centers
Not really dominant over neighbors
• Although some exceptions at different
Pacific Coastal Plain
• elaborate stone carvings
Abaj Takalik, Guatemala
• ”pot-belly” boulders that have been
incised with fat human figures (carved
after 500 B.C.)
• collosal heads (contact with Olmec?),
also pot belly boulders.
• Izapa Stela 5, the largest
and most complex stela at
the site, depicts an
enormous World Tree that
bisects the composition.
• The tree stretches from a
watery basal layer at the
bottom to a celestial band
at the top. A series of
mythic and quasi-historical
scenes appear on either
side of the tree, while the
bodies of two zoomorphic
beasts frame the scene on
• evidence of interaction with western
areas of MesoAm during the PreClassic
Court of the Stelae
The hieroglyphic staircase
is the longest known
inscription, tracing the
lineage of Copan's kings
back to the founder, Yax
Its inscriptions are more
worn-down than those on
most of the stelae and, in
order to prevent further
erosion, it is now protected
by an enormous tarp.
Stela M and its associated
altar stand at the foot of
it is a portrait of the
fifteenth ruler of Copan,
"Smoke Shell" who
also finished and dedicated
the hieroglphic staircase.
Stela M was dedicated in
756 A.D. (18.104.22.168.0),
three years after the
dedication of the staircase.
• one of the important highland
centers,important for trade in pottery.
• expansive religious architecture from
400 B.C. to A.D. 100.
Southern Maya Lowlands
• Tikal investigations in the 1950s,
national park around the site.
• 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. developed into a
• basic chronological sequence of pottery
Yucatan Peninsula and Belize
• exploited marine resources, adopted
kingship by 50B.C.
Cerros Main Temple
Structure 5C-2nd was built on the edge of the water and decorated
with monumental masks that flank the elongated central staircase.
• Previously thought that Maya practiced
cultivation similar to 16th c descendants
• Thus, it was believed that that was why
no major centers developed.
• Additional research discovered that
increased population caused them to
shift from small scale cultivation to
more intensive cultivation.
Localized intensive agriculture
Proposed by Warwick Bray
gardening took place in zones of
good water sources.
Expansive Cultivation (900 B.C.)
• corn farming with swidden or slash/burn,
family of five needs 3,000 pounds of corn per
• lie fallow for 4-8 years, so use up a lot of land
if population expands.
• but, 150-200 people per square mile can be
supported with shifting cultivation.
Doesn’t explain how supported Classic
Maya increasingly pressed by
Swamps were being drained and
drainage canals built., located with
The largest cities are located on the
edges of these swamps.
Settlement Patterns and Population
No direct evidence for census
material, so use indirect means.
• Counting house mounds
• Volumetric assessments of the masses
of formal architecture in the civic
Small platforms of clay, earth and
• Thatched roofs, wattle and daub.
• Lowlands areas seem that peak
population was Late Classic (A.D. 1000)
• The larger and more numerous the
more people needed to build them.
• Peaks during Late Classic as well.
Oneonta in Belize!!!