Maya people once dominated the region that is now eastern and southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras. Prior to the sixteenth century arrival of Europeans, they developed one of the most advanced Native American civilizations in the western hemisphere. Without metal tools, the Maya constructed massive stone pyramids and temples. They created stone sculptures and painted elaborate murals. They also recorded events in hieroglyphs, a form of pictorial writing. Their most complex achievements were in astronomy and mathematics. Maya used a numbering system and could complete abstract and complicated calculations. They developed a pair of interlocking calendars. One calendar was based on the position of the sun and contained 365 days. The other was a sacred 260-day almanac. Designation of any given day involved combining the name for the sun calendar day and the sacred almanac day.
The Maya culture's greatest period was from about year 300 to 900 AD. After that zenith, the Maya mysteriously declined in Guatemala's southern lowlands, but later their culture revived in the Yucatán Peninsula. There the Maya continued to dominate until the Spanish conquest. Today's Maya descendants still comprise a large segment of that region's population, living their lives as peasant farmers. They speak a mixture of Mayan and Spanish languages. One tribal group, the Lacandón people of Mexico, still makes pilgrimages to worship the ancient gods among the ruins of the pyramids and temples.
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