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15 Lesser Known Facts about the Ancient Mayans

By Andrew Alpin, 28 October 2017


4The Mayans were book lovers

The Mayans seemed to have been among the first early civilizations to read books and were among the first ancient civilizations to write them too. Mayan books were designed as screen folds like pamphlets and posters of magazines. The book pages were made from the inner bark of fig trees.

The Mayan system of writing is widely regarded by historians as sophisticated and unique. It is the most outstanding achievement of early Mesoamericans existing in pre-Columbian America. The Dresden Codex was believed to be the oldest book written in the Americas which  dates back to the 13th or 14th century and was rediscovered in the city of Dresden, Germany, hence its name.

Mayans Book Worms

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3Mathematics Matters

The Mayans progressed significantly in abstract mathematics and used a vigesimal math system whose numerals were based on a bar and dot counting system prevalent in Mesoamerica at the time. A bar represented the numeral 1 and a dot the numeral 5. They even added a symbol for the zero which is regarded as the earliest worldwide example of the use of the zero. The Mayans used mathematics to calculate and create their own calendar.

mayan abstract mathematics

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2A Long nose signified beauty


The Mayans believed that the very epitome of beauty was a long nose and did everything to try and get a long one. They also fashioned prosthetic noses out of clay and wore them over their own noses to improve the shape and elongation of size.

In fact, the Mayans were obsessed with a perfect nose much like the Roman nose. This obsession is reflected in several examples of Mayan art.

Long nose signified beauty

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1Spanish Conquistadors burnt thousands of Mayan books

Among the facts about Mayans, the Spanish conquistadors with their modern weapons were largely responsible for the decline of the Mayans. In 1562, A successful inquisition against converted Mayans led by a Spanish Franciscan Monk Diego De Landa, The first Franciscan to be sent to Yucatan Mexico resulted in most of the literature being destroyed. Let the Monk tell you in his own words:

 “We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.”

All but four Mayan codices were saved. It was presumed that the Mayans had written no less than 10,000 books.

Spanish Conquistadors burnt thousands of Mayan books

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